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CALL FOR CHANGE: ‘Crown Jewel’ events television regulation update

CALL FOR CHANGE: ‘Crown Jewel’ events television regulation update

PA Simon Galloway

Regulation around the broadcasting of ‘crown jewel’ sports events on free-to-air television needs to be brought out of the analogue age, BBC Sport director Barbara Slater has said.

The corporation was criticised over its coverage of the Tokyo Olympics, compared to its wall-to-wall coverage of the London and Rio Games, where it had 24 live streams available.

The BBC’s Tokyo coverage was restricted under an agreement with primary rights holder Discovery which also covers next year’s Beijing Winter Olympics and the Paris Games in 2024.

Slater defended the coverage the BBC had provided of Tokyo, saying it had still broadcast over 500 hours of action from the Games despite the restrictions and achieved record numbers in terms of digital and on-demand engagement.

But she told MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee that the ‘listed events’ regime – which guarantees certain events must wholly or in part be made available free-to-air – was in need of an update.

“I think it’s very important that the regime is modernised,” she said on the need for updating television regulation around crown jewel events.

“Unfortunately those agreements were made in an era when listed events applied only to analogue and part of that negotiation (with Discovery around Olympics coverage) was to secure digital access.”

Asked whether it was becoming increasingly difficult for public service broadcasters to compete, Slater added: “That’s why listed event legislation is so critical. Amazon could probably come and buy several Olympics, many times over.

“I do believe that not just ours, but the other free-to-air broadcasters’ rights portfolios, would be all the poorer if that listed regime had not existed to now.

“I do think ‘on demand’ is a modernisation that should happen.

“This was a regime that was introduced in the 1990s. I think that there has been a step change in terms of the qualification criteria. But apart from that there hasn’t been any evolution in terms of, for example, digital and on-demand access since the formulation of the legislation.”

Slater was asked whether she was concerned that the BBC might attract even more criticism at the Paris 2024 Games than it had over Tokyo.

More events in Paris will be happening live at peak viewing times from a UK audience perspective, increasing the risk of the BBC being forced to make swift, and sometimes controversial, editorial decisions about what to carry on its two streams.

Slater said: “I’m sure that there will be moments, but I think there’ll be relatively few moments.

“We can be quite fleet of foot. It’s very possible to immediately replay things and guide an audience through, and two streams is quite a significant amount of choice.

“But I don’t deny that there will not be the occasional clash, which will be unfortunate. We’ll have to navigate it in the best way that we can.”

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