Communications Minister Senator Conroy has met with executives of the three free to air commercial television networks to discuss up and coming changes to anti-siphoning laws which govern the ability of free to air networks to use their secondary digital channels to show sporting events before they are shown on the main channel.
The networks’ ability to use their digital channels for sports coverage instead of their main channel would allow them to be more flexible in sporting coverage allowing for normal programming on their main channel with sport continuing on other digital channels. It could also allow for AFL and NRL matches to be carried live into their opposing market while shown live on the main channel in their respective core markets.
The impact, however, would have the most likely effect of reducing the availability of events to Foxtel as the free to air networks would suddenly have more channels they can present sport on. For this reason, a decision in relation to anti-siphoning will not be made until after the August 21 federal election so as to avoid a backlash from Foxtel and other parts of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
The lack of a decision either way is impacting on negotiations of the 2012-2016 AFL broadcast rights deal which currently are on hold as a result. The NRL broadcast rights for 2013-2017 are also in discussion with Nine having a 90 day lead time over any other network to negotiate the deal.
The possibility of all three commercial free to air networks having another digital channel available in the next 12 months has been raised. With ABC now offering four distinct channels, there is no reason why technically the other networks couldn’t either although the likely consequence under the current system would be poorer quality over existing high definition and standard definition channels due to bandwidth constraints.
The potential result would be for more sport on free to air television which would benefit viewers but put pay TV providers on the back foot as free to air would be able to show more events at the same time over more channels.
As the analogue switch off roles across the country over the next few years, with everyone being 100% digital by the end of 2013, the concept of anti-siphoning over free to air digital channels no longer makes sense. The outcome of current discussions, however could be impacted by a change of government should the coalition win the August 21 election.
Sources: The Age, SMH, TVT