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Online streaming poses ‘existential threat’ to free sport on Australian TV

The rise of online streaming services is a “real and existential threat” to free sport on television, claims the peak body representing Australia’s commercial broadcasters, which argues new entrants to the entertainment market should face tougher restrictions when bidding for rights to show important sporting fixtures.

Free TV Australia has also called for more women’s sports to be shown on free-to-air broadcasts, including matches from the Matildas football team and all games in the women’s Fifa World Cup next year, in a review of the federal anti-siphoning list.

“The real and existential threat to the anti-siphoning scheme is the one posed by the non-inclusion of online content service providers,” Free TV said in a submission. “Closing this loophole is appropriately the focus of this review process.”

The government’s review of the anti-siphoning list, which gives free-to-air broadcasters first opportunity to acquire significant sporting events, is due to report early next year. The current list, which expires in April, includes events such as the summer and winter Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, the Melbourne Cup, AFL, NRL, the Australian F1 Grand Prix, Bathurst 1000 and significant cricket, tennis and netball competitions, meaning pay TV broadcaster Foxtel can only bid to show those events after free-to-air channels pass.

A major focus of the review has been on subscription streaming services such as Kayo, Stan, Amazon and Optus; anti-siphoning regulations do not restrict those services from bidding, despite their use of a paywall. The shadow communications minister, Sarah Henderson, earlier called this a “loophole”.

Free TV, which represents Channel Seven, Nine and Ten, said the Broadcast Services Act (BSA) anti-siphoning list should be updated to capture streaming services and ensure they could not outbid free-to-air channels.

“Today the public policy imperative goes beyond ensuring Australians are not forced to pay the high cost of subscription television,” it said in a submission. “Instead, the aim of the BSA anti-siphoning provisions should be to ensure Australians are not required to pay for a myriad of subscription video on demand and/or bundled telecommunications services, together with a high speed internet connection, in order to watch iconic sporting events.

“It is crucial that this review leads to a modernisation of the anti-siphoning scheme through the inclusion of online content service providers. As it stands today any of these providers could enter into an exclusive contract to transmit a sporting event, with no protections in place for Australian audiences.”

In its own submission, Foxtel – which also owns Kayo – claims the anti-siphoning list is no longer an appropriate regulatory mechanism, claiming it is anti-competitive as it doesn’t apply to streaming services.

Guardian Australia understands Foxtel’s submission argues for a “technology-neutral” approach. Foxtel said the anti-siphoning list is outdated as it only applies to television, a medium it said many Australians are using less now due to rising rates of streaming platforms.

Free TV’s submission also argued for a distinction between free online streaming services offered by broadcasters such as 9 Now or 10Play, classed as broadcaster video on demand (BVOD) and subscription services like Amazon, Stan and Kayo, called general online content services. The submission said BVOD should be treated the same as free-to-air broadcast TV, and allowed to show sports included on the anti-siphoning list, while general online content services should face restrictions.

FreeTV did not call for a major expansion of the competitions on the anti-siphoning list, but said it would support more women’s sports being put on the list, particularly the finals series of women’s competitions in AFL, rugby league, rugby union, netball, cricket and football.

“In addition, the inclusion of the Matildas’ World Cup qualifiers and all matches in the World Cup would be appropriate,” Free TV said. The Guardian

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