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Bun Fight Emerges Over Womens Sport As Consumers Desert Free To Air TV

Struggling free to air TV networks are looking for lifelines, and it appears that the Australian Federal Government are open to bailing them out with more free women’s sport on their networks.

At Nine, the Block has failed to deliver ratings success along with several of their other key programs and management have even resorted to cutting expenses of key staff as consumers desert free to air TV for streaming services and free to air TV apps, now the Federal Government is looking to give them a leg up as they struggle to compete with streaming services.

Now women’s sport, is set to become a key issue, with Foxtel management claiming that putting women’s sports on a government list designed to keep key games freely accessible for Australians would be a mistake, entrenching a “glass ceiling” on the players and sporting codes.The Albanese government who are facing a massive backlash for their Qantas protection strategy, is currently reviewing the “anti-siphoning list,” a law introduced in the 1990s to prevent key sports from being put behind pay TV paywalls.

Ther move comes as consumers desert free to air for paid subscription TV or free apps.

The Australian which is owned by News Corp the owners of Foxtel who are the only network that has invested in streaming 4K live sport in Australia claim that the Federal Government move follow a surge in support for the Matildas at the FIFA Women’s World Cup last month, which broke Australian free-to-air TV viewing records.

Foxtel commissioned a paper by research firm Charles River Associates that concluded that, in most cases, women’s AFL, NRL, FIFA Women’s World Cup, cricket, netball and basketball were already more accessible than their male counterparts.

“The benefits of explicitly including women’s sports on the anti-siphoning list would likely be symbolic at most: there would be no practical effect on the extent to which these sports are freely available to the public because they would be freely available anyway,” CRA’s Geoff Edwards wrote.

“The only clear beneficiaries would be the [free-to-air] broadcasters, which would face less competition for rights to televise listed women’s sports.”

Less competition would drive down the price of broadcast rights, reducing investment by codes and salaries for female athletes, Mr Edwards wrote – a “glass ceiling.”
Broadcast rights for sport are a contentious issue, in Australia as major overseas tech networks including Apple, Amazon and Google move to invest in sport around the world.

locally Channel Nine is set to win the rights to broadcast the Melbourne Cup carnival from 2024 and beyond after rivals Channel Seven dramatically pulled out of the bidding process.

News Corp claims Channel Seven withdrew in anger after it became clear Channel Nine was the Victoria Racing Club’s preferred bidder.

The Victorian industry had been strongly lobbying for Channel Seven to secure the Cup rights in a six-year-deal from 2024 understood to be worth upwards of $40 million.

The Victoria Racing Club and Racing Victoria had been at loggerheads over the rival broadcast proposals from Nine and Seven.

Sources say that Racing Victoria had felt the VRC pulled the wrong rein last time by going with Channel 10, with ratings plummeting and it also opening the door for NSW to get Channel Seven coverage.

The latest decision by the Labor Federal Government, doesn’t solve a complex situation where Australians view shows on subscription platforms like Netflix, through free broadcast services like 9Now or 10 Play, or on the likes of YouTube.

The legislation lists the key sporting events that must sell their broadcast rights to free-to-air networks.

Adding women’s sports to the anti-siphoning list won’t achieve anything, Foxtel says.

Two key players in the mix, subscription broadcaster Foxtel and Free TV, which represents the Seven, Nine and Ten networks, have very different visions for what the future of sports rights negotiations should look like.

News Corp reported that recently the government released a set of three proposals last month for how the scheme could work.

They include a more streamlined free-to-view approach – which would allow subscription streamers to buy sports as long as they were made free for viewers, to keeping just free-to-air aerial viewing enshrined as free – essentially the same as the law is now.

Finally, it proposed expanding it to prioritise the broadcasters’ streaming apps, like Seven’s 7plus and Nine’s 9Now. Nine is owned by Nine Entertainment, which also owns The Australian Financial Review.

Free TV said the government’s preferred proposal, which ensure sports are available for free on aerial television for broadcasters, don’t go far enough. Major broadcasters are increasingly seeing their audiences – and revenue – move to their digital streaming services.

“The government’s preferred model would allow the most attractive livestreaming rights to be cherry-picked by online content service providers,” Free TV wrote in its submission. “Local TV services would not be able to earn sufficient revenue to acquire the rights to any iconic sporting events included on the anti-siphoning list.”

Free TV chief executive Bridget Fair said Foxtel’s proposal was a marketing tactic. “This model must be seen for what it is – a marketing strategy to loss lead with a small number of sports in front of a paywall in the hope of driving increased subscriptions,” she said.

SBS, meanwhile, said the government should broaden the anti-siphoning list to include streaming platforms, and expand the list of sports from its current 1900 to 2800 to include more women’s and para-sports events.

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