MPs call for major Scottish sporting events to be FTA
March 2, 2023
By Colin Mann
The UK House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee has called for action from the UK Government and public service broadcasters to enable more Scots to watch major sporting events for free.
In its report examining ‘Public broadcasting in Scotland’, the Committee sets out how public service broadcasters are often ‘priced out’ of being able to show sporting events such as international football, where it heard rights owners have “no obvious commercial incentive” to relinquish exclusivity. MPs feel the current position is letting down Scottish fans, compared to those in England and Wales who can often enjoy watching sporting events on free-to-air channels.
This discrepancy has led the Committee to call on the UK Government to establish a review to consider options to improve free-to-air access to Scottish international football – potentially including adding Scotland’s World Cup and European Championship qualifiers to the ‘listed events’ public service broadcasters can more easily bid for. The Committee has also expressed a desire to see public service broadcasters in Scotland regularly and proactively engaging with subscription services to explore sharing the broadcast rights to major Scottish sporting events.
The Committee was also pleased to learn that TV production in Scotland by public service broadcasters – in terms of hours and spend – has been increasing, which has also benefited a thriving independent production sector. The BBC and Channel 4 both reaffirmed their commitment to making and commissioning authentic content for Scottish audiences when they appeared before the Committee. This includes the BBC’s plans to move some news jobs from London to Scotland to bolster its ability to make news that’s relevant to Scottish audiences. Following its session with Channel 4 and questioning over a lack of Scottish representation on its hit show Gogglebox, the Committee was pleased that a couple from Glasgow were selected to appear on the programme in early 2022.
While the Committee heard that the rise of streaming services offers opportunities for a wider choice of content for viewers in Scotland, almost a third of Scottish households still rely on Freeview to watch television. Freeview replaced the old analogue television service, and offers up to 70 free-to-air standard channels. The Committee’s report recognises the importance of Freeview in Scotland, especially to older and more rural households, and calls on the UK Government to offer certainty over continued Freeview coverage beyond 2034.
The Committee recognised that further legislative reforms are required, most importantly ensuring prominence for public service broadcasting content on new on-demand TV streaming platforms, and for STV in particular as a Scotland-specific channel. As such, the UK Government should set out a clear timetable as to when the Media Bill will be considered in Parliament.
“Broadcasting in Scotland has a really positive story to tell,” stated Scottish Affairs Committee Chair, Pete Wishart MP. “We have access – through public service broadcasters or streaming services – to unique Scottish TV content as well as globally recognisable shows filmed here, such as Outlander or Amazon’s The Rig. Our thriving screen sector is worth over half a billion pounds to Scotland’s economy.”
“But our Committee realised over the course of our inquiry that sports fans are really missing out. Subscription services often have the monopoly of showing major sporting fixtures, and it’s not fair on those who may struggle to pay the high fees to watch one football match or similar event. That’s why we’re calling on the UK Government and public service broadcasters to look again at whether they could be doing more to stop that monopoly denying fans access to these fixtures on free-to-air TV, so that more Scots can enjoy the thrill of these major events.”