Broadcasting rules for the “crown jewels” of sport are to be reformed

The rules of how sport’s ‘crown jewels’ such as the Olympics and World Cup in the UK are viewed are being reformed.

The government has released a white paper stating its intention to bring the listed events regime into the 21st century and ensure viewers can continue to watch major events via free-to-air digital and on-demand services.

The BBC’s coverage of the Tokyo Olympics last summer has been criticized. Unlike its offering for the 2012 and 2016 games, coverage in 2021 was limited under the terms of a sublicense agreement with Discovery.

The BBC could only show two Olympic events live at a time – one on TV and a second via a Red Button service and online, the rest on Eurosport or Discovery+.


England vs Scotland during a Euro 2020 game at Wembley Stadium (Nick Potts/PA)

The company’s sporting director, Barbara Slater, last year called for reform of the listed events regime under the Broadcasting Act 1996, and the government has now announced its intention to modernize the legislation to better reflect the current media landscape.

It says it will seek to make qualifying for broadcasting Group A events – which also include the men’s and women’s World Cup and European Championships, the Wimbledon singles final and the Grand National – a benefit specifically for free-to-air public service broadcasters (PSBs) ), namely BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

Currently, qualification requires that a service is free to view and accessible to 95% of the UK. All services currently qualifying are operated by the free-to-air terrestrial PSBs.

However, the government concedes that the competition they faced was “limited” in 1996 as viewing habits are changing rapidly and public service broadcasters compete with global media platforms for rights.

The Government will also review the scope of the Listed Events regime to see if it should be extended to include digital rights to “ensure that the public can view those sporting events of national importance on digital platforms free of charge”.

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“Digital rights, including on-demand rights, are now an important element in the sale of sports rights, but they do not fall under the listed events regime – raising questions about their relevance,” according to a government publication.

“If, for example, the Olympic 100m final was broadcast live on the BBC in the middle of the night, but all streaming and catch-up rights were sold to another broadcaster and kept behind a paywall, a culturally relevant event is potentially not available free-to-air to a wide audience.”

The 2020 Paralympic Games were added to Group A of the listed schedule of events, with the addition of the Women’s World Cup and European Championships earlier this week.


Julian Knight (House of Commons/PA)

DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight said: “The rules ensuring major sporting events are free for everyone to attend have not kept pace with rapid changes in viewership.

“With many more people now watching online or catch-up, rather than huddled around a TV with friends and family, the government must ensure the promised regimen review for staged events extends protections of the sporting crown jewels to include digital and on-demand content.

“Also, now is the perfect opportunity to expand the list of protected events to include more established core pieces of our national sporting heritage such as the Six Nations Rugby Championship.

“With the proposals announced today aimed at helping public service broadcasters thrive, it is puzzling why there is a deafening silence about the role of radio and how it is to be supported.

“This needs to be corrected if audiences are to enjoy a new golden age of programming as promised.” Broadcasting rules for the “crown jewels” of sport are to be reformed

Fry Electronics Team

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