13 November 2009 saw the publication of the United Kingdom’s Report on the Review of Free-to-air Listed Events (the Report).

BACKGROUND

Events of "national interest" are listed following a consultation by the Secretary of State in accordance with the Broadcasting Act 1996. In addition, Article 3 of the European Audiovisual Media Services Directive (2007/65/EC) establishes a mutual recognition system enabling EU Member States to enforce their list of major events in any EU Member State.

The purpose of the Report is to provide the Secretary of State with an independent review of the current list of major events (adopted in 1998) prior to the launch of the statutory process. The current list divides up major events into an "A" list and "B" list with events on the A list to be shown live and those on the B list to receive secondary coverage (e.g., highlights). A broadcaster must be able to reach at least 95 per cent of the audience to be a "qualifying channel". Only five channels in the United Kingdom meet this requirement: BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV, Channel 4 and Five.

FINDINGS OF THE REPORT

The Report outlines its conclusions against the background of a changing media landscape in Britain. In particular, the Report notes the increased uptake of pay TV, with the five main terrestrial channels capturing just 64 per cent of the market, down from 97 per cent in 1998.

Also noted is the "privileged position" that the listing regime grants the BBC, particularly in light of the "limited" ambitions of ITV, Channel 4 and Five with regard to bidding for sports broadcasting rights. This is further highlighted by the observations of certain sports governing bodies that there is an absence of competition for listed events rights, which places the BBC in "an overwhelmingly beneficial position" and has led to a decline in the value of such rights over the past five years (by up to 70 per cent in some cases). However, the Report comments that were listing to be abolished, this would not necessarily lead to fiercer competition and a value increase for the rights, on the basis that most listed events would likely continue to be featured on the main terrestrial broadcasters. In particular, for the FIFA World Cup, it acknowledges the popularity of matches involving the home nations but notes that some other matches are watched by so few people that delisting would have little impact. The Report considers that listing the entire Wimbledon tennis championship is not likely to have much of an impact, whilst in relation to the proposition of listing the entire Rugby World Cup it considers that the value of the rights may fall as a result. Cricket is a rare example of where the impact of listing is quantified, with an estimate of a significant reduction in funds if test cricket is listed.

Additionally, an economic report commissioned by BSkyB examines the impact of broadcasting on the funding of sports governing bodies to fulfil their remit. This report notes that broadcasting revenues allow the governing body to invest in and develop the sport at the elite and grassroots levels. Moreover, broadcast coverage of sports provides important exposure for the game, which impacts on the level of awareness and overall engagement with the sport. Such coverage and increased exposure provides a key tool for the governing body to leverage sponsorship and commercial values.

RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE REPORT

The Report has recommended criteria for listing 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.

Based on these criteria the Report has recommended the following new list:

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