Anti-siphoning rules set to sail through parliament after Senate committee sign-off

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An overhaul of Australia’s anti-siphoning laws, which grant free-to-air television channels first dibs on broadcasting rights for major sporting events, is set to sail through parliament after a Senate committee probing the proposed legislation gave the Labor reforms the green light.

The Senate’s environment and communications committee published its final report on the legislation this week, with Labor and Coalition members recommending the Bill’s passage.

The laws, first introduced in 1992, stop pay television networks from purchasing broadcast rights for sporting events of “national importance and cultural significance” unless free-to-air channels have already purchased the rights for the event.

But under proposed amendments to the legislation introduced by the Albanese government earlier this year, streaming services will also be stopped from outbidding free-to-air television networks, barring platforms such as Optus Sports for putting events behind a paywall.

Additionally, a specific event will be now automatically removed from the anti-siphoning list 12 months before it is scheduled to start, providing subscription services with greater lead time to plan broadcasts if they should choose to.

Previously, pay TV broadcasters were given just six months.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has previously flagged plans to add women’s sports and para-sports to the anti-siphoning list to ensure they are freely accessible.

Sports currently listed include the AFL, the Melbourne Cup, the NRL, the Melbourne Grand Prix, the Australian Open, and the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

While free-to-air broadcasters are supported of the measures that give them a leg up in TV rights negotiations, pay TV networks, sports codes and streamers have been opposed on the grounds that the rules are anti-competitive and stifle revenue for the game.

The changes proposed by the Albanese government will also grant preferential treatment to apps belonging to free-to-air broadcasters such as ABC iView and 9 Now on smart televisions ahead of other pre-installed streaming apps like Netflix and Binge.

The bosses of commercial broadcasters Seven, Nine and Ten and public broadcasters ABC and SBS argued in favour of the legislation.

However, pay TV broadcasters alongside streaming services, have argued that consumer choice and convenience should not be interfered with.