Australian Broadcasting Corporation Submission to the Australian Broadcasting Authority Investigation – Review of Anti-siphoning List April 2001 Introduction The following comments are provided by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in response to the Australian Broadcasting Authority’s (ABA) inquiry into the operation of the “anti-siphoning” requirements of the Broadcasting Services Act. Information is also attached with details of ABC broadcasts of anti-siphoning events to which the ABC has held rights. Background The ABC has a strong historical relationship with Australian sports broadcasting. From 1956 until the mid 1970s the ABC covered nearly all major sports – cricket, tennis, rugby union, rugby league, Commonwealth and Olympic Games. Sport changed character during the 1970s, with players becoming professional and team activities increasingly influenced by commercial interests. Colour television was introduced in 1975, making sport a more attractive option for commercial broadcasters and advertisers. As a consequence of these events, the cost of broadcast rights increased dramatically, beyond the amounts the ABC could afford, and the number of hours and types of sport offered by ABC television has changed significantly. The introduction of Pay television in the 1990’s threatened further diminution of sporting coverage by the ABC. The Commonwealth Government’s intervention, with the establishment of the anti-siphoning list, enabled free-to- air television to continue to provide audiences with major sporting coverage for at least the introductory years of pay television. During the 1990s, with broadcast rights to mass-spectator sports beyond its reach, the ABC placed a greater emphasis on sports analysis and journalism while further developing its commitment to a range of sports including lesser profile and local and regional sporting activities. The Anti-siphoning List Sport remains a defining element in the formation of Australian national identity. As a relatively small and young nation competing against economically and politically powerful countries with long histories and strong cultural traditions, sport is one area where Australia has been able to demonstrate some superior abilities and consolidate a sense of national spirit. The international success of Australians in sport has created a keen following and appetite for all sports. Free-to-air television has helped foster this and the ABC believes audiences should continue to be offered a wide variety of sporting events on free-to-air television, particularly events of national significance. “Consistently broadcast” The ABC has sought information about the extent to which free-to-air broadcasters consistently broadcast events on the anti-siphoning list. Sports on the anti-siphoning list that the ABC has consistently broadcast over the past five years are shown in the attached tables (Attachment 1). The ABC understands the term “consistently broadcast” to have its dictionary meaning, that is, being broadcast ”time after time”, or “over and over again”. The sporting context modifies this to some extent, due to its seasonal nature. The expression in this context may also imply that the sport would be scheduled in a similar way (weekends, mid-week, afternoon, evening, late night) and follow a similar format (live, delayed or highlights) to previous broadcasts. A measure of a sport being “consistently broadcast”, would be that audiences have an expectation that they will be able to watch a particular sport during the season on the same channel in a similar form and timeslot as in previous seasons. Over the past five years the ABC has consistently broadcast International Netball competitions. For the past three years has consistently broadcast the play-off matches of the Australian Basketball League. Criteria for inclusion The ABC believes that the ABA should give consideration to the 1999/2000 Productivity Commission Inquiry into Broadcasting recommendation that criteria for inclusion in the anti-siphoning list should include: “demonstrated national significance, such as Australian involvement; events that have been consistently broadcast on free-to-air television in the past five years; and events that have received a high level of viewing by Australian audiences, as determined by ratings”. Additions to the list The ABC recommends the inclusion on the anti-siphoning list of the Australian Women’s Basketball National League finals. The Australian Women’s Basketball team won a silver medal at the Sydney Olympic Games and has an international reputation equal to that of Men’s Basketball. The high international profile reflects back into local competition. Women’s Basketball should have the same national status as Men’s Basketball and soccer, with final and/or play-off matches protected for audiences by being placed on the anti-siphoning list. For similar reasons, the ABC recommends the inclusion of the National Netball League finals on the anti-siphoning list. The ABC has consistently broadcast these over the past five years. The ABC is of the opinion that sport of national significance should be protected for free-to-air viewers. To qualify for national significance a sport should have an international reputation or a significant national following. In the case of Women’s Basketball, the team has won many significant international competitions, as has Australia’s Netball Team. In addition, Netball is of national significance because it is the most popular women’s sport in Australia with an estimated 1.2 million netball players nationally (http://www.netball.asn.au/about_all.htm). The Productivity Commission report on Broadcasting cites a Sweeney poll which notes that 15% of people watch Netball (the most watched sport was Cricket which 48% watched). (Broadcasting Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, March 2000 p432). Conclusion In conclusion the ABC recommends that the ABA retain events currently on the anti-siphoning list. In order to protect two emerging sports, Women’s Basketball and Netball, it is recommended that certain matches of these events be added to the list. Given the significance of sport he ABC further recommends the extension of the operation of the anti-siphoning list until 2014.
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