While Seven and Nine are required by the anti-siphoning legislation to screen the AFL and NRL grand finals on their primary channels, there is nothing to prevent them from simulcasting them on 7mate or GEM respectively.
Premium sport along with other genres continues to be screened in SD while the industry and government are distracted by other concerns such as FreeviewPlus, Piracy and killing off Community TV. That’s despite Nine CEO David Gyngell telling media at the 2012 NRL rights conference games would be in HD from 2014.
Nine does produce the NRL in high definition, which screens in glorious HD on FOX Sports. Viewers in Perth and Adelaide also get to see NRL on GEM, but where it really counts -Sydney and Brisbane- standard definition prevails.
When questioned on David Gyngell’s position this week, Nine did not reply by deadline.
Meanwhile, Seven doesn’t even produce its AFL in HD, despite it continually touting itself as a leader in sports broadcasting. Seven-produced games on FOX Footy are upscaled, but not to “full” HD.
This week Mumbrella published a story that Seven Melbourne general manager Lewis Martin had ‘backflipped’ on a pledge to screen the Grand Final in HD.
A Seven spokesperson told TV Tonight, “We produce our AFL coverage for our primary channel, Channel 7, which is a standard definition channel.”
Of course if our networks had switched their primary channels to HD nine months ago (isn’t that why we all bought new TVs?) none of this would be a problem. We could watch premium drama, entertainment, documentary and news in HD too.
But as FreeTV explains, networks can’t make that move under current regulation. Last December FreeTV wrote to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull recommending Legislative change to the Broadcast Services Act to drop the requirement that primary channels must be an SDTV service.
“Under the current regulatory framework broadcasters are forbidden to show their primary channel in HD and under the antisiphoning rules listed sports must be on a primary channel unless you get permission to do otherwise,” said Free TV CEO, Julie Flynn.
“So the first step which we think is absolutely a no-brainer and can be done simply and quickly is to get rid of the regulation in Schedule 4. Deciding whether or not to run your primary channel in HD should be a commercial decision for broadcasters.”
While Seven indicated it backed FreeTV’s push, a TEN spokesperson this week told TV Tonight, “We have asked the Government to get rid of the regulation currently preventing us from broadcasting our primary channel, TEN, in HD. Once the restriction is gone we will be able to provide more premium HD content to viewers.”
But while networks are awaiting regulatory change, what’s stopping them from simulcasting premium sport in HD now? Not the anti-siphoning list, which rules only that it must seek approval if it wants Tier A sports only on multichannels. Not OzTAM ratings, which allows networks to merge numbers where a content simulcast applies, a la Family Feud.
No, it appears to be driven by money. Ad rates for Primary channels are around 7 – 10 times higher than those on multichannels.
Victor Corones from MagnaGlobal said, “There is generally more available audiences sitting on the primary channels which also happen to be the more expensive channels from a rates and Cost Per Thousand perspective. I would also think that there a greater chance of catching more viewers if the show sits on the well-known primary channel.
“Part of it may relate to launching shows during the event where they want audiences to stay tuned that day.”
Meanwhile Free to Air viewers can look forward to two glorious standard definition finals across two weeks.