Review to assess if ‘listed events’ broadcast rules should cover digital rights

A Government review will consider whether public service broadcasters like the BBC and ITV should be guaranteed the right to show major events such as the Olympic Games and football World Cups on their digital platforms.

The Digital Rights Review, which is launched on Tuesday, will examine whether rules around free-to-air ‘listed events’ – the so-called crown jewels of live sport – should be extended beyond traditional television broadcasting.

The Government said free-to-air access had enabled 40 million people to watch Euro 2020 on the BBC last year, while 36 million people watched the Tokyo Olympics.

The BBC was only able to broadcast two live events at a time from the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021
The BBC was only able to broadcast two live events at a time from the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021 (Mike Egerton/PA)

The review will assess whether including digital rights will improve access further, as more people tune in via catch-up and streaming services.

Currently, it might be the case that the Olympic men’s or women’s 100 metres final would be broadcast live on the BBC in the middle of the night in the UK, but if streaming and catch-up rights had been sold to a different broadcaster and kept behind a paywall, many people would miss out on seeing it.

The BBC’s coverage of the Tokyo Olympics last summer faced criticism. In contrast to its offering for the 2012 and 2016 Games, coverage in 2021 was limited under the terms of a sub-licensing agreement with Discovery.

The BBC could only show two live Olympic events at any one time – one on television and a second through a red button service and online, with everything else on Eurosport or Discovery+.

Julia Lopez, the Minister for Digital Infrastructure
Julia Lopez, the minister for digital infrastructure (Ian West/PA)

Digital infrastructure minister Julia Lopez said: “As we saw during the Women’s Euros and with the FIFA World Cup just around the corner, we know that enjoying blockbuster sporting events together means so much to many people.

“Everyone should be able to watch these incredible moments of national unity, no matter how they choose to tune in.

“As viewing habits shift online, it is right that we review our rules and consider whether updates are needed to ensure our brilliant public service broadcasters can continue to bring major events to the public at no extra cost.”

The Paralympic Games were added to Group A of the listed events schedule in 2020, with the women’s football World Cup and Euros added in April of this year.