Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald/The Age, Ms Rowland said the deal was not in contravention of the anti-siphoning list but “did start to promote the questions of what is significant enough to be required to be shown on free-to-air television”.
“I think the problem with the anti-siphoning list today is that since the time that was written, and the changing nature of what’s important in sport, it becomes an arbitrary decision about what is important to Australian consumers,” she said.
Network Ten spent $100 million on rights for the Big Bash League in 2013 and grew the audience of the games significantly before losing out to the Seven and Foxtel bid. Nine Entertainment Co (owner of this masthead) was the Test cricket rights-holder for decades.
“[Ten] put some deliberate effort into promoting it for women as well. And then to lose out on those rights… they have been one of the chief complainants in that area and you can understand why that is,” she said.
The anti-siphoning laws were written before over-the-top digital players such as Twitter and Facebook as well as telecommunications companies Telstra and Optus were vying to buy digital rights to major games.
“There is no more kicking the can on this. It does need to be examined in the interests of consumers, in the interests of all media players,” she said.
Ms Rowland indicated a Labor government would not promise funds specifically to Foxtel to support women’s, emerging and niche sports. The company, which is controlled by News Corp, received a five-year grant worth $30 million for this purpose from the Turnbull government “without an open tender process”, she said.
A Ten spokeswoman said the free-to-air broadcaster would support an anti-siphoning review, saying the rules exist “to give Australians access to free TV coverage of our most treasured national sports but at the moment you could drive a truck through them”.
“The way the last cricket deal played out highlighted a few big problems with the rules,” she said.
A spokesman for Seven West Media said that without the anti-siphoning list, “far less, if any, cricket would currently be available on free to air television”.
“The list does not currently apply to digital platforms, and we believe there is an increasing risk that telcos and foreign multinational platforms will start acquiring rights to significant sports if the issue is not addressed as a matter of priority.”
News Corp and Nine declined to comment.
Jennifer Duke is a media and telecommunications journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.