Wednesday 13 November 2019

Government should shift Ashes coverage to public broadcasters, say peers

A report claimed such sporting events could help unite the UK.

Peers have suggested Ashes coverage should be made free-to-air (Martin Rickett/PA)
Peers have suggested Ashes coverage should be made free-to-air (Martin Rickett/PA)

By Craig Simpson, PA

The Government should make coverage of The Ashes free-to-air in order to dampen division and boost competition against the likes of Netflix, peers have recommended.

They also called for special sporting events such as golf’s Open Championship to be shown by public service media outlets, boosting their value in a TV market encroached on by tech giants.

It has also been claimed that national TV events help in “unifying the country through shared experiences” and could be reclaimed for the public from “prohibitively expensive” subscription channels.

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Republic Of Ireland’s Shane Lowry celebrates with his wife, Wendy Honner, and daughter after winning the Claret Jug during day four of The Open Championship 2019 (David Davies/PA)

Sky currently holds the broadcasting rights to both The Ashes and The Open.

The House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee suggests such sporting spectacles should instead be among “listed” events reserved for public broadcasters, which currently includes the Olympic Games, Fifa World Cup and the Grand National.

A report published by the committee states: “At a time of division, public service broadcasters play a role in unifying the country through shared experiences.

“The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should consult sporting bodies, broadcasters and the public with a view to increasing modestly the number of listed events.

“This could include events such as The Ashes and The Open Golf Championship.”

Peers heard evidence on the impact of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon on public service broadcasters.

It was found that these British broadcasters had great value to the public but faced challenges in providing what the public wanted, including difficulties securing rights to sporting coverage due to “spiralling costs”.

Peers heard that, instead of public service coverage, “too many events were on subscription channels only and that these were prohibitively expensive”.

The committee claimed that sporting events fulfil the public service remit, are valuable in uniting audiences and attract younger viewers.

Peers also said the advertising revenue for such events was important in sustaining commercial public service broadcasters.

If popular events ... were further restricted to public service broadcasters, there would clearly be scheduling issues, making it likely that sports fans would not be able to watch as much sport as they can today – driving down viewing, participation and investment in British sports Sky

A Sky spokesman said: “Investment from broadcasters like Sky has enabled British sports to thrive over the past 30 years, bringing the country together at key sporting moments.

“If popular events, such as The Ashes and The Open, were further restricted to public service broadcasters, there would clearly be scheduling issues, making it likely that sports fans would not be able to watch as much sport as they can today – driving down viewing, participation and investment in British sports.

“This would be a bad outcome for fans and governing bodies alike.”

PA Media

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