The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a Consultation on the broadcast rules of major sporting events to ask if public service broadcasters (PSBs) should be guaranteed the opportunity to acquire online distribution rights.
Below we set out the context and potential impact of this Consultation. If you need assistance with responding to the consultation or want to find out how this will impact your business, please get in touch.
PSBs including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, are guaranteed the opportunity to broadcast the major sporting events contained in the Listed Events Regime. The Regime is split into two categories:
- Group A: This includes the Olympics and Paralympics, the FIFA World Cup, Wimbledon Finals and the Grand National. Recently, FIFA Women’s World Cup and UEFA European Women’s Championship have been added. For Group A Events, the live broadcast rights of the full event must go to PSBs.
- Group B: This includes Cricket Test Matches, Six Nations Rugby Matches involving the Home Countries, Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup. For Group B Events, the broadcast rights of “secondary coverage”, namely highlights, must go to PSBs.
The Terms of Reference states that the current regime was established in 1996 when around 4% of the UK households had access to the internet. Therefore, it did not guarantee PSBs the opportunity to obtain online distribution rights. Since then, consumer viewing patterns have shifted online, often using streaming and catch-up services. The Consultation is concerned that the current regime could mean the Olympic 100m final is broadcast live-on-air in the middle of the night on a PSB whilst all streaming and catch-up rights are sold to a paid-for/subscription-based broadcaster. This paywall would mean “a wide audience may not be able to watch this important event.”
The Consultation asks whether PSBs should also have the opportunity to acquire online distribution rights, for their streaming and catch-up services, to major sporting events.
The Consultation does not intend to change the events in the Listed Events Regime. The Consultation states: “It believes the current list strikes an appropriate balance between retaining free-to-air sports events for the public while allowing rights holders to negotiate agreements in the best interests of their sport.”
Instead DCMS is seeking to understand more about how digital rights are managed, transacted and consumed. In particular, the Review is seeking to understand, and if necessary suggest changes to the listed events regime that take into account and address:
· the relative importance of digital rights for listed events as opposed to linear rights, both now and as predicted into the future, including examining audience behaviours, business models, and how changes in technology and/or live vs catch up viewing impacts audience engagement with events of national interest
· how digital rights are currently negotiated, and predicted future developments from public services broadcasters, other broadcasters and rights holders (both international and domestic)
· the broader landscape surrounding securing digital rights, including contractual, legislative, commercial and financial issues
· constraints that would prevent or hinder as many people as possible from accessing listed events for free
· the UK’s international obligations, including under the European Convention on Transfrontier Television
Level’s view on the consultation is that DCMS may be trying to identify and resolve a problem that does not actually exist, at least not to any material extent. PSBs when negotiating sports rights acquisitions usually acquire a package of rights so that they are able to make available live programming, and also delayed clips or as-live exhibitions, the latter usually being made available by means of digital and catch-up services.
That said, it will be important for stakeholders in the sports rights business to respond in order to enable DCMS to make informed judgements about the desirability or scope of future regulation in this area.
Why You Could Be Impacted
Any change to the Listed Events Regime will impact rights holders, who may have to provide PSBs the opportunity to obtain both live linear and delayed online distribution rights to major sporting events on the list. It is possible that this could result in rights holders receiving less revenue for online distribution rights from PSBs compared to pay broadcasters. The Consultation acknowledges this, stating DCMS want to ensure they attain the “right balance between accessibility, particularly when timezones affect the screening of events domestically, and the ability of sporting organisations to generate revenues to invest in their sports at all levels.”
It may also impact broadcasters and operators of digital media services if the current regime is extended such that digital delayed and catch-up coverage of listed events is reserved for PSBs.
The consultation is open until the 15th December 2022. Stakeholders can email [email protected]ms.gov.uk to show interest in the review.
Level can help you to submit a consultation response on behalf of your business or provide further consultation and advice on how this might impact you.