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UK govt reviews of broadcast rules around major sporting events

Sports fans’ access to watch the biggest global events on digital platforms could be guaranteed as the government reviews the rules which provide broadcasters access to major sporting contests.

The Digital Rights Review, launched today, will look at whether the government’s free-to-air ‘listed events’ rules should be reformed so that public service broadcasters (PSBs) – including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – are guaranteed the opportunity to show certain major events such as the Olympics and World Cup on their digital platforms rather than just focusing on traditional TV broadcasting as is the case today.

The listed events regime helps ensure the British public are able to tune into the biggest sporting moments at no additional cost by giving PSBs the opportunity to bid for the broadcasting rights. This has meant that more than 40 million people watched Euro 2020 on the BBC and 36 million people watched the Tokyo Olympics last year.

As more people tune in via catch-up and streaming services to watch sport, the review will assess whether including digital rights can ensure as many people as possible can continue to access events including Wimbledon, the Paralympic Games and the Grand National.

Currently if, for example, the Olympic 100m final was broadcast live in the middle of the night on the BBC, but all streaming and catch-up rights were sold to a different broadcaster and kept behind a paywall, a wide audience may not be able to watch this important event.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said:

As we saw during the Women’s Euros and with the FIFA World Cup just around the corner, we know that enjoying blockbuster sporting events together means so much to many people. Everyone should be able to watch these incredible moments of national unity, no matter how they choose to tune in.

As viewing habits shift online, it is right that we review our rules and consider whether updates are needed to ensure our brilliant public service broadcasters can continue to bring major events to the public at no extra cost.

The Terms of Reference, which determine precisely what the review will cover, have been published today and marks the public launch of the review.

The Government believes that certain sporting events of national interest should be shown on free-to-air television so that they can be enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible.

However, it is also important that it is recognised that the current framework was decided in a different media landscape almost twenty years ago, when just four per cent of UK households had access to the internet.

As such, the review will take into consideration broader online distribution of sporting rights, including video sharing platforms and social media, which has increased exponentially since the current legal framework was established in 1996.

In doing so, the review will balance the desire from audiences to watch national sporting events at no additional cost with the ability for sporting organisations to generate revenues from sports rights to re-invest in their sports at all levels. BCS Bureau

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