The government yesterday finally announced planned changes to the anti-siphoning rules which govern the broadcasting of sports. While "major" sports will continue to be protected and there's increased flexibility for broadcasting on digital multi-channels, the changes aren't necessarily great news for lovers of HD broadcasts or live sports fans.
The essential principle of the anti-siphoning rules — that certain sporting events are so "iconic" that they have to be available on free-to-air television — remains in place in the new rules, which will take effect from next year. (Personally, I find this basic idea weird, but I don't pretend that's a common view.)
Sports on the anti-siphoning list have now been divided into two categories: Tier A, which includes AFL and NRL grand finals, the Australian Open finals and the Melbourne Cup; and Tier B, which includes all the Olympics, regular AFL and NRL games, and Wimbledon. The full list is available as a PDF document here.
Tier A events must be broadcast live and in full on a main channel. Tier B events can be broadcast on a digital multi-channel, and can be delayed by up to four hours. Under the previous scheme, sports on the anti-siphon list had to be broadcast on the main channel first, but there were no rules regarding whether the broadcast had to be live.
One gain for sports lovers is that there is now a "use it or lost it" clause. Channels who purchase the rights to any events on the list must schedule the event for broadcast, or offer on the rights to another channel.
The ability to show Tier B events on additional channels should mean that live broadcasts for out-of-state events are more likely in theory. For instance, currently Channel Nine shows some NRL games (including the State of Origin) in Melbourne several hours late on its main channel. It could now show those on GEM live for Melbourne viewers. Whether this will actually happen remains to be seen. In the case of overruns, main channel events can also be "switched" to a digital multi-channel, which seems marginally more likely.
What I suspect will be the biggest point of contention for many Lifehacker readers is the total lack of any rules regarding HD broadcasts. While channels can offer an additional HD simulcast of a Tier A sporting event on their HD channel, they're not obliged to do so. The gradual erosion of HD simulcasts across the board as new channels have been introduced has been a steady source of complaint this year, and these rules don't do anything to change that situation for sport.
The "delay clause" for multi-channels is also a potential issue for live sports fans. It's hard to imagine that events from overseas such as Wimbledon won't be delayed so that they're on at a more ratings friendly time, for instance. Tim Burrowes at Mumbrella argues that this is going to be a major problem:
The same goes for the Olympics. The Olympics. Under the new rules, there’s no obligation to show it live. Instead, so long as it’s within four hours, that’s just fine. Like the last Olympics, as viewers we’ll have no idea whether what we’re watching is live, a few minutes ago or a couple of hours old. As a result, the whole lot ends up feeling slightly flat.
As Burrowes notes, that issue is particularly pronounced given that anyone who wants to dodge learning the results will now have to stay away from Twitter, Facebook and the Internet, as well as dodging TV and radio news broadcasts.
Are you pleased with the new rules? Should they have gone further? Do we need them at all? Share your thoughts in the comments.