BILLS;Broadcasting Services Amendment (Anti-siphoning) Bill 2012;Second Reading – 12 Sep 2012 (Part ii)

As I was saying before my remarks were interrupted previously, Australians love their sport. The government understands this and understands that not all Australians can afford, or want, to opt into subscription television services. The government also understands that digital TV is transforming the choices Australians have to watch sport, news and entertainment. Digital TV has completely altered the way the media landscape looks, compared with when the Broadcasting Services Act was introduced.

This bill seeks to preserve the existing arrangement whereby subscription television broadcasters are prevented from acquiring the rights to events on the antisiphoning list before free-to-air television broadcasters have had the opportunity to acquire those rights. The bill will introduce a two-tier antisiphoning list. Tier A events will be required to be shown live on a free-to-air broadcaster’s main channel. Tier A events include: the Olympic Games, including the opening and closing ceremonies; the Melbourne Cup; the AFL and NRL grand finals; the Rugby World Cup final; each test, one day, and Twenty20 cricket match involving Australia held in Australia; FIFA World Cup soccer matches involving Australia; the Bathurst 1000; and the Australian Open men’s and women’s tennis final, among others.

Tier B events will be required to be shown live or with a maximum delay of four hours. Tier B events can also be premiered on free-to-air digital television multichannels. This will provide greater flexibility for the coverage of important events, while also helping to drive the take-up of digital television. Australians actually want to watch the sport on the antisiphoning list. The antisiphoning list should not be used to purchase the rights to sport just to horde them or to prevent competitors from getting access.

The bill will introduce coverage and must-offer obligations on free-to-air broadcasters. This will ensure that broadcasters actually televise the listed events to which they have rights, or offer on those rights if they do not intend to show the event. The government also recognises that new media, like internet TV, has changed the way the media landscape operates. The bill amends the BSA to extend the operation of the Anti-siphoning Scheme to new media providers. This will future proof the Anti-siphoning Scheme and ensure that listed events are not siphoned off exclusively to content service providers, such as internet protocol television providers.

Deals between broadcasters and sporting bodies are complex and take significant time to negotiate, and the Australian public will not accept the uncertainty of whether a major sporting event will or will not be televised. Consequently, the bill will lengthen the automatic delisting period from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. It will also allow the minister, by legislative instrument, to extend this period to 52 weeks for AFL and NRL premierships. This means that listed events will be removed from the list at a date further out from the event, and will allow sporting bodies ample time to negotiate with pay television broadcasters, and secure a reasonable commercial outcome, in situations where free-to-air broadcasters are not interested in acquiring the rights to these events. The bill amends the BSA to provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority with the necessary power to monitor and enforce the Anti-siphoning Scheme. The bill also amends the BSA to permit the minister to designate certain conditions in relation to the events of the Australian Football League, the AFL, and the National Rugby League, NRL, premiership covered by the Anti-siphoning Scheme. These means will allow the minister to protect certain matches for free-to-air television under the Anti-siphoning Scheme.

The bill will regulate the 2017 AFL seasons and beyond. However, the 2012 to 2016 AFL premiership seasons will not be directly regulated under the new scheme as the AFL’s new broadcast rights agreement for this period provides substantial and significant outcomes for AFL fans on free-to-air television, including shorter delay times, four matches per round, continued provision of matches on Friday and Saturday nights, and the protection of coverage of Western Australian and South Australian teams in their home states.

The NRL will be regulated under the new scheme. The bill provides for the making of the relevant legislative instruments not later than 1 January 2013 to provide time for the NRL to progress its rights negotiations for the 2013 season and beyond and deliver a quality outcome for NRL fans. The bill will also enable the minister to exempt events from the acquisition and conferral restrictions in circumstances where the rights to the whole event are not made available by the rights holder, or where a free-to-air broadcaster has no intention of acquiring the rights to the whole event. This will ensure that subscription broadcasters and content service providers are not unreasonably locked out from obtaining rights.

The bill’s quota group mechanism provides a means of effectively regulating the round-by-round matches of the AFL and NRL premierships under the Anti-siphoning Scheme. In its current form, the mechanism would allow subscription broadcasters to acquire any round-by-round matches of the AFL or NRL, provided this acquisition did not prevent free-to-air broadcasters from acquiring the rights to four weekly AFL matches and three weekly NRL matches.

On 22 March 2012, on the recommendation of the Selection of Bills Committee, the Senate referred the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Anti-siphoning) Bill 2012 to the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 4 May 2012. As a member of the committee I had the opportunity to hear evidence at the public hearing into this bill from numerous stakeholders, including the Australian Football League, Foxtel, FreeTV Australia, ABC, ACMA and DBCDE. I would like to quote the ABC’s submission which highlights the importance of this bill:

The ABC strongly supports the policy principles underlying the Bill, which seeks ‘to ensure that opportunities for free-to-air television coverage of anti-siphoning events are maximised’… The free availability of significant sporting events remains a key public interest objective. In a period of significant structural change in the media industry globally, government intervention to support this objective remains relevant given that most new and emerging media platforms are likely to be subscription based. Shared experience of significant sporting events contributes strongly to a sense of national and cultural identity. Audience numbers demonstrate the continued popularity of sports coverage in the Australian Community.

In regards to the need for antisiphoning legislation to cover emerging technologies I would like to quote the report:

Given the burgeoning use of new media the committee believes it is appropriate for the anti-siphoning regime to take account of content service providers. The committee is also aware that the rapidly evolving media landscape will likely impact on the new anti-siphoning regime and its application to new media platforms. The proposed statutory review of the anti-siphoning scheme is an appropriate process during which the relevance and effectiveness of the regime in this regard can be assessed.

This bill is the result of a lot of hard work by the government and by Minister Conroy’s office and department, in consultation with a wide variety of stakeholders. This government has a commitment to keep the sport that Australians want to watch on our TV screens, free for all Australians to watch. With 70 per cent of Australians being unable to afford or choosing not to pay to watch sport on television, the antisiphoning list is vital to ensure all Australians are able to watch key sporting events. It is in the public interest to ensure significant sporting events are available free to air, as they have always been. It is what the Australian people want. It is what the government promised. I commend this bill to the Senate.