Government should shift The Open to public broadcasters, say peers

Peers call for major sporting events such as The Open and The Ashes to return to public service outlets...

Andy Roberts's picture
Wed, 6 Nov 2019

Peers in the House of Lords have claimed the government should make coverage of golf's Open Championship and cricket's The Ashes free-to-air in order to dampen division and boost competition against the likes of Netflix.

According to the Press Association, peers are calling for major sporting events such as The Open to be broadcast by public service media outlets, in the hopes of boosting their value in a TV market encroached on by tech giants such as Sky. 

Sky Sports currently holds broadcasting rights to both The Open and The Ashes.

BBC lost its rights to show The Open a year earlier than anticipated in 2016, moving from a live broadcast to a highlights feed. The tournament is still covered live on BBC Radio 5 Live, however, along with a live online feed on the BBC's website. 

"We know that many fans are unhappy with the loss of rights and in an ideal world the BBC would still be the home of live coverage of The Open," said BBC's director of Sport Barbara Slater back in 2015. 

"The BBC is faced with some challenging financial savings targets. Sport on the BBC is not immune to those pressures and they are compounded by the highly inflationary nature of the rights market."

Peers have also claimed how national TV events go some way in "unifying the country through shared experiences" and could be reclaimed for the public from "prohibitively expensive subscription channels".

The House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee suggested both The Open and The Ashes should instead be among "listed" events reserved for public broadcasters, which currently includes the Olympic Games, Fifa World Cup and the Grand National.

"At a time of division, public service broadcasters play a role in unifying the country through shared experiences," claims a report published by the committee.

"The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should consult sporting bodies, broadcasters and the public with a view to increasing modestly the number of listed events.

“This could include events such as The Ashes and The Open Golf Championship."

Peers then heard evidence on the impact of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon on public service broadcasters.

It was found that these British broadcasters had great value to the public but faced challenges in providing what the public wanted, including difficulties securing rights to sporting coverage due to "spiralling costs".

Peers heard that, instead of public service coverage, "too many events were on subscription channels only and that these were prohibitively expensive."

The committee claimed that sporting events fulfil the public service remit, are valuable in uniting audiences and attract younger viewers.

Peers also said the advertising revenue for such events was important in sustaining commercial public service broadcasters.

A Sky spokesman said: "Investment from broadcasters like Sky has enabled British sports to thrive over the past 30 years, bringing the country together at key sporting moments.

"If popular events, such as The Ashes and The Open, were further restricted to public service broadcasters, there would clearly be scheduling issues, making it likely that sports fans would not be able to watch as much sport as they can today – driving down viewing, participation and investment in British sports.

"This would be a bad outcome for fans and governing bodies alike."



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