Free-to-air TV call to extend anti-siphoning protection to digital sports rights

Free-to-air TV call to extend anti-siphoning protection to digital sports rights


Australia’s free-to-air networks are urging the government to extend its anti-siphoning protections to digital sports rights, in a bid to prevent streaming services and pay-TV providers from putting major events behind a paywall.

Majority Rupert Murdoch-owned Foxtel Group, which operates the sports streaming service Kayo, says broadcast rules are outdated, and relaxing regulation would create more competition and innovation in sports broadcasting and unlock extra funding for grassroots sport.

Conversely, Free TV, the body which acts on behalf of Nine (owner of this masthead), Seven and 10, argues the business model of local TV centres around mass reach, driving grassroots engagement in sport, ensuring the long-term viability of the sporting codes themselves.

The TV groups have made submissions to a government review of the anti-siphoning list, part of the legislation that determines which events and matches are freely available to the public.

Foxtel says existing rules are out of step with the way Australians now view sport, defending its position by saying it can broadcast events for free via its Kayo Freebies service, if needed.

“The rules remain stuck in a time-warp,” a spokesperson for the company said.

Anti-siphoning laws were created in 1992 following the launch of Foxtel at the beginning of the pay-TV era. The list protects certain major sporting and cultural events from disappearing behind a paywall, keeping them freely available to the public. AFL and NRL games, the summer and winter Olympics, Melbourne Cup, cricket Test matches played in Australia, the Australian Open and others are on the list.

The review is looking to modernise the scope of the list to potentially include streaming services and digital rights. It currently applies only to broadcast and pay-TV operators, and places no restrictions on the acquisition of digital rights.

Free TV’s submission says that under the government’s preferred updated model streaming services would be allowed to “cherry pick” the biggest and most culturally significant live-streaming rights.

“The approach of putting limited ‘teaser’ content in front of paywalls is essentially a loss-leading strategy designed to eventually upsell subscriptions and grow advertising revenue at the expense of local TV services,” the submission says.

The government has been reviewing the scheme since October last year, announcing an interim list in March. On Friday, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland added Matildas FIFA World Cup matches to the list, after the team’s success this year.

Australians should not be forced to pay to watch these events that they currently enjoy for free and this is more important than ever with current cost-of-living pressures,” Free TV Australia chair Greg Hywood said.

Access to digital rights is a crucial commercial battleground, with more Australians choosing to view content through pay, and free streaming services such as 9Now or 7Plus rather than on a linear broadcast device.

“This is probably the most important review of the anti-siphoning rules since they were established,” Bridget Fair, chief executive of Free TV said.