An alternative to anti-siphoning: unbundling

The federal government's sport anti-siphoning list is in the media today. Bernard Keane pointed out in yesterday's Crikey that it's a giant, anti-competitive con that hands sports broadcasting rights to the free to air TV cartel at the expense of sporting codes, and it doesn't even result in those sports being shown live on free to air TV!

The anti-siphoning list is a populist federal government fudge that purportedly prevents important and iconic sporting events from disappearing onto pay TV platforms. Things like the Melbourne Cup, the NRL and AFL grand finals, the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. The concept, I suppose, might be a good one if you're a fan of those sports. Though ask a Melbourne Storm fan from Melbourne whether they get good coverage down there on free to air TV. After winning the NRL Grand Final, apparently the Melbourne broadcaster switched to the evening news rather than show the local NRL team receiving the trophy.

Of course what this list means is that pay TV operators (that is, Foxtel and Fox Sports) can't bid for these events. One less cashed up bidder means less money for the sporting codes selling the rights. By way of example, the football (round ball kind) A-League was snapped up quickly with a very generous at the time deal to only be shown on Fox Sports.

There's a fundamental problem with the basis of the anti-siphoning concept. It prevents the pay operators from bidding for the primary rights, but doesn't force the free to air players to actually use the rights, or to run the events uninterrupted. So you end up with Seven switching from the Australian Open (on the list) to Home & Away for ratings reasons.

Now I'm an A-League fan. I go to Sydney FC's home matches so I only want to watch the 16 away matches of the season. The cheapest Foxtel package that'll give me the A-League is $60/month on a 12 month contract, with $100 installation. $820 annually to watch 16 games. $51.25 per game.

Unbundling the sports you want to watch

If the aim of the anti-siphoning list is to ensure people aren't prevented from watching the sports they love, perhaps another approach is required. Foxtel insist you buy their "basic" package at $44 even if all you want is the sports channels ($16/month extra). Now once upon a time I suppose they had some fixed delivery costs in the cable or satellite delivery paths. With Internet delivery now an option, a better approach would be to require that there be an option to watch only the sports they want.  I'd be willing to pay $5-10 per game to watch the sport I love. Right now Fox Sports, Foxtel and the A-League make nothing from me for away matches.  Given they only charge $16/month for the sports channels, the A-League component of that would be even smaller, so the $5-10/game could be quite significant.

So how about this Conroy? Instead of an artificial fudge that actually costs the sporting codes money without delivering good sports viewing to fans, how about forcing the rights holders to offer unbundled access to the sports?

ObDisclosure: I work for Telstra, who no doubt would love to have the option of buying sporting rights on the anti-siphoning list. These views are my own, not those of my employer.