Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Questions without Notice
Australian Football League Television Broadcasts
My question is to Senator Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Has the minister seen reports of a new deal for the broadcast of AFL matches negotiated between the Seven and Ten networks and Foxtel? Is the minister aware that under this arrangement there will be 22 fewer AFL matches shown on free-to-air television this year? Is the minister also aware that, for the first time, football fans in Adelaide and Perth will have to pay to watch live broadcasts of matches involving teams from their cities? Does the minister agree that the AFL and free-to-air networks have sold out football fans by agreeing to this arrangement? Does the minister also agree that the deal negotiated by the Seven and Ten networks shows a complete contempt for the intention of the antisiphoning list?
No, I would not agree with Senator Conroy’s last proposition. I am, however, aware of press reports that the broadcast rights holders to the AFL from 2006 to 2011, the Seven and Ten networks, have been in discussions with various television broadcasters to on-sell the rights to televise up to four AFL matches each round. I also note that there has been press speculation that a deal has been struck between Foxtel and the Seven and Ten consortium. However, of course it is not my role to speculate before there is an announcement about these matters. What I can say is that under the government’s antisiphoning scheme AFL premiership matches are protected, which reflects, of course, their strong community support. The AFL’s deal with the Seven and Ten networks saw the antisiphoning scheme work precisely the way in which it is intended by giving free-to-air broadcasters first access to rights that are listed.
Recently I announced the introduction of a ‘use it or lose it’ scheme to ensure that the free-to-airs do not acquire events and either hoard them or show them with excessive delays. This new scheme commenced on 1 January this year. So although I am not privy to the details of the AFL’s agreement with the two networks—
which—as Senator Conroy quite rightly interjects—is due to be announced tomorrow, I do understand that under the terms of the five-year agreement a maximum of four matches per round may be on-sold by the Seven and Ten networks to subscription TV broadcasters and that if no agreement is reached with subscription television the networks must ensure the broadcast of all eight games per round, which may of course involve other free-to-air broadcasters. I also understand that Network Ten will broadcast the 2007 AFL grand final after winning a coin toss for the right to screen the match. Network Seven will broadcast the following grand final. Any negotiations between Seven and Ten and other broadcasters is of course a matter for the parties involved and subject to the terms of the contract agreed with the AFL. Certainly the government would not be seeking to interfere with negotiations.
As with all events on the list, the Australian Communications and Media Authority will monitor the use of the rights acquired by the broadcasters and report back to the government. These reports will guide future action in relation to the list. I am aware of reports suggesting that the proposed deal will lead to a reduction in the number of games broadcast free to air in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia—and I should say that the AFL is one of the cornerstone sports of the anti-siphoning list. Australians do love their sport and their various footy codes, and that is why the government has directed that the regulator monitor the way sports on the list are shown by broadcasters. Under the rules, broadcasters do need to demonstrate that sports on the list are being shown live to fans. It is precisely the reason for the list and we will watch closely how the games are used throughout the year so that it can inform the way in which the government deals with this list.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister explain why families like Senator Minchin’s or Senator Ellison’s will be forced to choose between paying $600 to watch Crows and Port Power matches live or keeping their children up to watch a replay starting at 10 pm on free to air? Will the government look at strengthening the anti-siphoning list to ensure that free-to-air coverage of major sports is maintained? It will apply to the Eagles and Dockers matches as well. Alternatively, will the government continue to allow broadcasters to exploit the protection given to them by the anti-siphoning list to extract additional revenue from pay TV by selling out sports fans?
I thank Senator Conroy for the supplementary question. I sincerely hope when it comes to the AFL that Senator Conroy does support the game instead of supporting England, as we know he does with the cricket! The important thing is that we have to see what this deal entails. It is quite inappropriate to speculate on the details. No doubt, if Senator Conroy asks me tomorrow, I will be able to elaborate further.