Insights Government announces review of broadcast rules around major sporting events


The Digital Rights Review will look at whether the Government’s free-to-air “listed events” rules should be reformed so that public service broadcasters (PSBs) are guaranteed the opportunity to show certain major events such as the Olympics and World Cup on their digital platforms rather than just focusing on traditional TV broadcasting as is the case today.

The Government says that the listed events regime helps ensure the British public can tune into the biggest sporting moments at no additional cost by giving PSBs the opportunity to bid for the broadcasting rights. However, as more people tune in via catch-up and streaming services to watch sport, the review will assess whether including digital rights can ensure as many people as possible can continue to access events.

The Government explains that currently, if the Olympic 100m final was broadcast live in the middle of the night on the BBC but all streaming and catch-up rights were sold to a different broadcaster and kept behind a paywall, a wide audience might not be able to watch the event.

The Terms of Reference, which determine precisely what the review will cover, have also been published. They state that the Review will seek to understand, and if necessary, suggest changes to the listed events regime that take into account and address:

  • the relative importance of digital rights for listed events as opposed to linear rights, both now and as predicted into the future, including examining audience behaviours, business models, and how changes in technology and/or live vs catch up viewing impacts audience engagement with events of national interest;
  • how digital rights are currently negotiated, and predicted future developments from public services broadcasters, other broadcasters and rights holders (both international and domestic);
  • the broader landscape surrounding securing digital rights, including contractual, legislative, commercial, financial, and practical benefits or constraints that would prevent or hinder as many people as possible from accessing listed events for free; and
  • the UK’s international obligations, including under the European Convention on Transfrontier Television.

The Government believes that certain sporting events of national interest should be shown on free-to-air television so that they can be enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible. However, it is also important that it is recognised that the current framework was decided in a different media landscape almost twenty years ago, when just four per cent of UK households had access to the internet.

As such, the review will take into consideration broader online distribution of sporting rights, including video sharing platforms and social media, which has increased exponentially since the current legal framework was established in 1996. In doing so, the review will balance the desire from audiences to watch national sporting events at no additional cost with the ability for sporting organisations to generate revenues from sports rights to re-invest in their sports at all levels.

Those who would like to contribute to the review should email by 15 December 2022. To read the Government’s press release in full and for a link to the Terms of Reference, click here.