BBC leads calls for new reach threshold for listed events in 'the digital era'
The BBC, the UK’s free-to-air public-service broadcaster, is pressing for a change to the law to ensure it is able to keep hold of major sports events classed as ‘crown jewels’.
At present, the rules governing these so-called ‘listed events’ state that they must be shown on channels available to at least 95 per cent of the population.
This is to ensure they are not restricted to pay-television operators with much smaller audiences.
However, the above reach threshold only applies to live television and, with ownership of sets expected to fall as people increasingly rely on devices such as mobiles and iPads to watch sport, the BBC and other free-to-air networks want the law updated to prevent the events being lost to subscription broadcasters such as Sky and BT Sport.
The issue is set to be debated in the UK Parliament’s House of Lords next week.
One proposal is that the listed events be reserved for channels which have been watched in some form by 90 per cent of the population in the past year.
Barbara Slater, the BBC’s director of sport (pictured), told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: “The legislation on which broadcasters qualify was written many years ago in an analogue era and must be updated to avoid it becoming defunct.
"Rather than risk the abolition of Listed Events ‘by the back door’, Government and Parliament should act to deliver a regime fit for the digital era and ensure that our great sporting moments continue to be available to everyone."
Category A listed events, which have to be shown live on television channels available to 95 per cent of the UK population include soccer’s World Cup and European Championships, the Olympic Games and the finals of the Wimbledon tennis championships.
Last month, David Clementi used the occasion of his confirmation as BBC chairman to call for a review of the listed events in the wake of the loss of some high-profile rights.
Clementi referenced golf’s British Open, which the BBC no longer covers live, as an example of an event that should not have been relinquished.
UK pay-TV operator Sky took over the live rights to the Open, one year earlier than planned, in 2016, replacing the BBC, which has retained highlights coverage. The deals run until 2021.
The tournament is a category B event under the listed events legislation, meaning that live coverage can appear exclusively on pay-TV so long as highlights are available on free-to-air TV.