UK government may extend reserved sports in digital domain

The UK government is to review broadcast rules around major sporting events to look at whether public service broadcasters should be guaranteed the opportunity to buy digital rights.

Julia Lopez

The Digital Rights Review, launched today, will look at whether the government’s free-to-air ‘listed events’ rules should be reformed so that public service broadcasters including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are guaranteed the opportunity to show certain major events such as the Olympics and World Cup on their digital platforms rather than just focusing on traditional TV broadcasting as is the case today.

The listed events regime is designed to help ensure that viewers are able to tune into the biggest sporting moments at no additional cost by giving PSBs the opportunity to bid for the broadcasting rights. Examples include the Euro 2020 football championships on the BBC and the Tokyo Olympics last year.

However, with viewing on streaming platforms increasing, the government is concerned that some events may not be available in a way that is convenient for viewers. It cited the example of an event being broadcast live in the middle of the night on the BBC, but where all streaming and catch-up rights were sold to a different broadcaster and kept behind a paywall.

The government has published Terms of Reference for the review to determine what it will cover.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said that while it was firm that certain sporting events should be available via PSBs, it would take into account the different media landscape today, compared with when the current rules were set 20 years ago, and the need of sports organisations to make money from rights to reinvest in their sports.

With this in mind, the review will take into consideration broader online distribution of sporting rights, including video sharing platforms and social media.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said: “As we saw during the Women’s Euros and with the FIFA World Cup just around the corner, we know that enjoying blockbuster sporting events together means so much to many people. Everyone should be able to watch these incredible moments of national unity, no matter how they choose to tune in.

“As viewing habits shift online, it is right that we review our rules and consider whether updates are needed to ensure our brilliant public service broadcasters can continue to bring major events to the public at no extra cost.”

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