Conroy now king of the sports codes on free-to-air
"The bill will address this by preventing the potential for the rights to anti-siphoning events being siphoned off to new media and no longer being freely available to Australian sports fans" ... Stephen Conroy. Photo: Jessica Shapiro
The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, will have wide-ranging powers to determine how many AFL and NRL matches are broadcast weekly on free-to-air television, under new laws revealed yesterday.
The laws require the communications minister to specify the number of AFL and NRL games broadcast on free TV each week, although the number cannot be higher than four matches for rounds of the AFL, and three matches for rounds of the NRL.
Under the legislation, free-to-air-television channels will remain the main broadcasters of major sporting events. But, for the first time, Australia's television laws will take into account the rise of online and digital media.
With 82 per cent of households having made the switch to digital TV, the government has moved to relax restrictions on free-to-air broadcasters showing games on their digital stations. If, for example, Channel 7 was broadcasting a game live and cut to a breaking news story, it would now be able to switch the football broadcast to its digital station uninterrupted.
If the laws are passed, anti-siphoning laws will also address the rapid rise in new media broadcasting sporting matches, for which there is no regulation.
''The bill will address this by preventing the potential for the rights to anti-siphoning events being siphoned off to new media and no longer being freely available to Australian sports fans,'' Mr Conroy said.
New media outlets will be able to acquire the rights to NRL and AFL sporting events but, like pay-TV outlets, they will have to abide by broadcast quotas.
The legislation will reform the so-called ''anti-siphoning'' laws, which prevent subscription broadcasters from acquiring the rights to sporting events before free-to-air broadcasters have had the chance to do so. The rights for ''nationally iconic'' sporting events such as the Melbourne Cup and NRL and AFL grand finals will be offered first to free-to-air television stations to protect the right of all Australians to watch them, under legislation introduced yesterday.
The new anti-siphoning laws also give the communications minister the power to ''declare'' a sporting event be listed as a ''tier A'' or ''tier B'' event, which determine the coverage obligations of broadcasters showing them.
Events in tier A include ''nationally iconic'' events like the Melbourne Cup and football premierships, while tier B refers to ''regionally iconic and nationally significant'' events like Australian Open non-finals games.
To appease regional audiences, particularly outside eastern seaboard states, the legislation will require free-to-air broadcasters to show tier B games within four hours of kick-off, giving them the ability to schedule coverage to maximise audience capture.
Tier A games must be televised live, but if free-to-air broadcasters choose not to take up those rights for tier A or tier B games, the right to televise those events will go to pay-TV providers.
Free TV Australia's chief executive, Julie Flynn, said the organisation would examine the legislation in detail, but welcomed greater flexibility for free digital stations to broadcast games.
Sporting bodies will have greater freedom to negotiate with pay-TV broadcasters for the rights to listed events that free-to-air broadcasters have chosen not to show.
And, for the first time, Twenty20 cricket matches involving Australia and played in Australia will be on the anti-siphoning list, as well as Twenty20 World Cup matches involving Australia and FIFA World Cup qualifiers in which the Socceroos play.
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