Game over: Iconic Aussie sports could vanish from free-to-air streaming

A streaming paywall could leave millions of Aussies unable to tune into their favourite sporting events on their smart devices.

By Jarrod
4 Min Read

A streaming paywall could leave millions of Aussies unable to tune into their favourite sporting events on their smart devices.

According to the peak body for free TV broadcasters, including Seven, Nine and Ten, the government’s latest Prominence and Anti-siphoning Bill needs to be strengthened to bar streaming giants from snatching up rights to some of the country’s biggest sporting events. 

“In its current form the bill does not guarantee the availability of free sporting coverage for those who are reliant on the internet for their free TV viewing and sets an unnecessarily long timeframe to secure the availability of free local TV services on smart TVs,” said Free TV CEO Bridget Fair.

“These two major oversights must be fixed to protect the free universal access of local TV services and sport for every Australian.”

Currently, the bill prevents subscription streaming services such as Amazon, Apple and Disney from buying exclusive broadcast rights to iconic sporting events like the Olympics, AFL, NRL and cricket. 

However, the exclusive digital rights for these events are still up for grabs, potentially locking out millions of Australians who watch free sport on services such as 7plus, 9Now and 10 Play.

“As the proportion of households watching TV online grows to half by 2027, the anti-siphoning list will be fundamentally undermined if it does not apply to digital rights,” said Ms Fair.

“Bidding for sport will become commercially unviable if free-to-air broadcasters can only acquire a narrow range of terrestrial rights, leaving paid services to acquire all sporting events.

“This is exactly the nightmare scenario the government is trying to avoid with this bill – so it must be amended to reflect modern viewing habits.

“Many new homes do not even have antennas installed. All Australians deserve access to the great sporting events, trusted news and great entertainment programs that bring our nation together, regardless of their income or whether they have an antenna on their home.”

According to the broadcasting body, 13 million Aussies tune into free-to-air programs every day and 70 per cent of adults asked used free TV streaming apps.

It might already be too late 

Amazon has already capitalised on the loophole, using their almost-unlimited capital to lock the upcoming World Cup cricket series behind Prime Video’s paywall with an exclusive four-year streaming deal.

Foxtel boss Patrick Delany downplayed the acquisition at the time, saying it wasn’t “some sort of big change in the market,” but with the 2023 Men’s World Cup breaking Aussie ratings records, the news is undoubtedly a blow to thousands of fans. 

While Amazon refused to reveal how much it paid for the rights to 448 live games between 2024 and 2027, other recent rights deals give some indication of the value these major sporting events have for streaming platforms. 

In January, Seven and Foxtel reportedly paid $1.5 billion for the rights to one-day internationals, BBL and Test cricket, while in August, Disney paid US$3 billion to secure the Indian rights to ICC tournaments.

“We have been saying for years that streaming giants would be coming for our sports rights here in Australia and the acquisition of World Cup cricket by Amazon just proves the point,” said Ms Fair.

“All Australians deserve the right to share our great sporting moments for free, and that right is in serious jeopardy.”

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By Jarrod
Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.