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David Davies publishes his review of free-to-air listed events

150/09
13 November 2009

Sporting events with a special national resonance should continue to be protected for the widest-possible television audience.  There is still a place for a listed events regime, but its long-term future in a changing media landscape is by no means certain.

That’s according to the independent review Panel into the future of listed events which reported today.

If the Government chooses to continue listing events to ensure free-to-air broadcast coverage, there should be a single list of live events, the Panel concluded.  Protected coverage of highlights is now insufficient and out-of-step in a multi-channel, digital and online world.

In the absence of any other agreed way forward, the Panel recommended a list that met amended criteria for events of national resonance.

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Today’s report concluded that:

  • Independent research into public attitudes showed that 82 per cent of respondents believed they had an entitlement to watch certain events free-to-air because they had already paid the TV licence fee, and 76 per cent expected to be able to watch major events on free-to-air TV.  The Panel believed there was compelling evidence of a public expectation that the BBC had a responsibility to give a high priority to such events, and that this should be recognised by the BBC in its current review of its size and scope.

  • The Panel applauded BSkyB’s role in driving innovation in the way in which sport is covered in the UK.  Its capacity with ESPN, to reach 90 per cent + of households in 2012 via commercial multiplexes and Freeview, was confirmed to the Panel by Digital UK, which has overall responsibility for completing digital switchover.  The Panel urged both BSkyB and ESPN to consider again what may be in the best interests of UK viewers, and the circumstances in which they might broadcast a small number of major events free-to-air.

  • The Panel accepted that sports governing bodies should be best-placed to know what is in the best interests of their sport now and for the future.  But the Panel’s task has been to look beyond the singular interests of any one sport.  An EU Directive permits member states to draw up their listing arrangements to ensure that a substantial proportion of the public is not “deprived” of the chance to view events of major importance to society.

  • Those who opposed protection had  to accept that their view meant there were circumstances in which a significant proportion of the population could be denied the chance to view major national and international events, including senior citizens who currently qualify for free TV licences. 

  • The Panel remained convinced that, at least for the foreseeable future, despite the enormous changes in the media landscape, most people’s first choice of how to view the bigger sporting events would be via what is still identifiably a television set.

  • In deciding whether or not to list an event, the Secretary of State might take into account other factors affecting the likely costs and benefits to the sports concerned.  The Panel regarded such factors as needing political judgements that could only be for the Secretary of State in any consultation that follows its review.

  • If listing continued, the Panel urged the Secretary of State to consider more regular reviews of the list than there had been to date.

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David Davies commented today:

“The Panel’s task was to look beyond the interests of any one sport, and assess the events that really matter to society in the modern age.  I believe our report is challenging for the sports governing bodies, the broadcasters and the Government.  But unashamedly it puts the viewing public first.”

Notes to editors

The Panel recommends that the following events should be protected for free-to-air live coverage:

  • The Summer Olympic Games
  • FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament
  • UEFA European Football Championship Finals Tournament
  • The Grand National
  • The FA Cup Final (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland only)
  • The Scottish FA Cup (in Scotland only)
  • Home and away qualification matches in the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Football Championships (listed in the Home Nation to which they relate)
  • The All-England Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship (listed in its entirety)
  • The Open Golf Championship
  • Cricket’s Home Ashes Test matches
  • The Rugby Union World Cup Tournament
  • Wales matches in the Six Nations Rugby Championship (in Wales only)

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The current list of sporting events protected under the Broadcasting Act 1996 is:

Group A (Full Live Coverage Protected)

  • The Olympic Games
  • The FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament
  • The European Football Championship Finals Tournament
  • The FA Cup Final
  • The Scottish FA Cup Final (in Scotland)
  • The Grand National
  • The Derby
  • The Wimbledon Tennis Finals
  • The Rugby League Challenge Cup Final
  • The Rugby World Cup Final

Group B (Secondary Coverage Protected)

  • Cricket Test Matches played in England
  • Non-Finals play in the Wimbledon Tournament
  • All Other Matches in the Rugby World Cup Finals Tournament
  • Six Nations Rugby Tournament Matches Involving Home Countries
  • The Commonwealth Games
  • The World Athletics Championship
  • The Cricket World Cup - the Final, Semi-finals and Matches Involving Home
  • Nations' Teams
  • The Ryder Cup
  • The Open Golf Championship

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The Panel recommends that the criteria going forward should be as follows:

  • In order to be eligible to be listed, an event must have a special national resonance and not simply a significance to those who ordinarily follow the sport concerned.
  • Such an event is likely to fall into one or both of the following categories:
     
    * it is a pre-eminent national or international event in sport;
    * it involves the national team or national representatives in the sport concerned.     
    * It should also be likely to command a large television audience.

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EU Member states are entitled to draw up a list of events which are generally felt to have special national resonance to ensure, so far as possible, that they are broadcast on free-to-air television.

The Government aims to ensure that these key events are available to as much of the population as possible and has outlined criteria for ‘qualifying’ broadcasters that meet that objective.  Those criteria are that the service is received by at least 95% of the UK population and at no additional cost to the viewer (excluding the television licence fee).  The services currently meeting these criteria (qualifying broadcasters) are BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4 and Five.  Five was added to the list in March 2008.

The first list was drawn up in 1956 between the BBC and the then Indpendent Broadcasting Authority.  The list was reviewed in 1984, 1989, 1991 and 1998. 

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