Australian opposition party seeks review of anti-siphoning laws
Australia's opposition Labor Party has said it would consider tightening the anti-siphoning laws that are designed to ensure live coverage of sporting events on free-to-air television after several international cricket matches involving Australia in the 2018-19 season were broadcast exclusively on pay-TV network Foxtel.
Michelle Rowland, the Labor communications spokesperson, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald: "There is no more kicking the can on this. It does need to be examined in the interests of consumers, in the interests of all media players.”
The laws are meant to guarantee that certain sporting events, at the point their broadcast rights are put up for tender, have to be offered to free-to-air networks for first refusal.
Last year, Cricket Australia agreed a new six-year, two-way rights deal with Seven Network, the commercial broadcaster, and Foxtel worth A$1.2 billion ($932 million).
Although it ensures that Australia's home test matches are shown free-to-air on Seven, men's one-day internationals and Twenty20 internationals and some games from the domestic Big Bash League T20 competition are only available on Foxtel, as part of an agreement the latter has with Seven. Figures show that less than a third of Australian households have access to Foxtel at the moment.
Rowland said the deal “did start to promote the questions of what is significant enough to be required to be shown on free-to-air television.”
She added: "I think the problem with the anti-siphoning list today is that since the time that was written, and the changing nature of what’s important in sport, it becomes an arbitrary decision about what is important to Australian consumers."
Her comments came ahead of the Australian general election on 18 May.
Until last year, all Australia men's home matches were available free-to-air on Nine Network, the commercial broadcaster that was the main channel for Australian international cricket for four decades.
At the time, the switch of home one-day internationals and T20 internationals to pay-TV prompted calls for government intervention, as these matches are on the anti-siphoning list of events that are meant to be offered to free-to-air broadcasters first.
A spokesperson for Ten Network, the free-to-air broadcaster that showed BBL games from 2013 to last year, commented that “at the moment you could drive a truck through” the anti-siphoning rules.
The list does not apply to digital platforms.
A spokesperson for Seven said that this particular issue means "there is an increasing risk that telcos and foreign multinational platforms will start acquiring rights to significant sports if the issue is not addressed as a matter of priority.”
Other events on the anti-siphoning list include all AFL and NRL games, the summer and winter Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, home games of the Australian rugby union team, tennis' Australian Open and horse racing's Melbourne Cup.