Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the BBC


  The BBC welcomes the Select Committee's current inquiry into the Staging of International Sporting Events, and the opportunity to contribute to it.

  The Committee's inquiry is extremely timely. While there is now more dedicated sports broadcasting available than ever before, the delivery of sports events on a free-to-air basis is becoming increasingly difficult. The key issues to which we would like to draw the Committee's attention at this time are:

    —  The BBC's ongoing commitment to UK sports coverage.

    —  The BBC's work to build relationships with UK Sport.

    —  Maintaining universal access to UK sports broadcasting.

  Almost three times as many people watched live sport on the BBC last year as on any other terrestrial channel. In 1999-2000 (the last year for which figures are available) the BBC broadcast 2,463 hours of sports coverage on network radio, 1,438 hours of sport on BBC 1 and 2, and 457 hours on its regional TV opt-outs. BARB figures suggest that, excluding digital output, BBC sports programming reached 34 per cent of the population.

  Leaving aside the 34 separate sports which made up our Olympics coverage, over the last year the BBC's sports coverage has included ice hockey, boxing, show jumping, badminton, table tennis, curling and sheepdog trials. These events took place across the country, and many were of interest to particular regional audiences. Each year, we provide live televised coverage of the major events in the UK sporting calendar, including the Open Golf, Six Nations Rugby, the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, the London Marathon, Darts, Snooker and Bowls World Championships, Wimbledon, and, from 2002, the FA Cup Competition. In addition, our extensive sports news across all our outlets, but particularly on Radio 5-Live and our online sports pages, provided information about an even wider range of UK based sports events.

  As a publicly funded broadcaster, we make a considerable investment in UK sport. We contribute financially by acting as host broadcaster and by purchasing UK rights. We work with sports' bodies in a range of ways actively to encourage sport at the grass roots. We promote the full range of UK sport through unique high quality coverage across our various broadcast outlets which is available to all UK audiences without charge.


Major Events

  The BBC's coverage last summer of the Sydney Olympics demonstrated our unique ability to cover international sporting events. Through our comprehensive programming, across our outlets, we gave people throughout the UK the opportunity to share in national passion, excitement, pride, and despair, at performances. We know from experience that landmark sports programming of this kind attracts new audiences to sport, and brings long-term social and sport benefits in terms of regenerating sport at the grass roots and reinforcing the multi-cultural aspects of contemporary Britain.

  In particular, the BBC's commitment to coverage of the Olympics meant that the whole of the UK was able to follow the record-breaking success of the British team, in both the main games, and the Paralympics. The BBC provided over 500 hours of multimedia coverage between 15 September and 1 October, including 21 hours of analogue television programming each day, and also produced a dedicated Olympics website.

  77 per cent of the UK population saw at least 15 minutes of the BBC's Olympics coverage, and despite being shown at half past midnight, just under 7 million people watched Steven Redgrave win his fifth gold medal. A similar number of people watched Denise Lewis's victory the following day. Those figures do not include those listening on the radio, watching the highlights later, or following events online. The BBC coverage uniquely allowed a national sense of gold medal achievement.

  Closer to home, we already have a team working full time with the organising committee of the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games (M2002). As host broadcaster and UK rights holder for the largest sporting event which the UK has hosted since 1948, we have already invested heavily in international broadcasting facilities for the championships.

  During the 10 days of the competition, we will provide at least 129 hours of coverage on BBC 1 and BBC 2, as well as a dedicated website for the Games. We will showcase all 28 different disciplines which make up the games, as well as the competitions for disabled athletes. We are harnessing the BBC's extensive technical expertise to develop state of the art coverage which will take viewers in all 72 Commonwealth countries closer to the action than they have ever been before. We believe M2002 gives the UK a golden opportunity to demonstrate our ability to host major sporting events, and we are delighted to be able to play our part in what we hope will be a huge success story for UK sport and the M2002 committee.

Use of Multiple Distribution Channels

  Our unique range of outlets—from BBC 1 and BBC 2, through our local, national and international radio channels, to our online sites—allows us to provide in-depth coverage for the full range of national sports. Our proposals for an additional dedicated digital radio service (5-Live Sports Plus) which are currently under consideration by the Secretary of State aim to enhance our ability to offer live commentary on national sporting events to which we hold the rights.

  The dedicated sport section of our online site was launched in July 2000 with the aim of expanding the range of our sports services. The site currently has eight sections dedicated to news of particular mainstream sports' but on a sample day also included details of ice hockey, NBA, American football, baseball, badminton, rowing, sailing, horseracing, snooker, boxing, winter sports, and cycling. Page impressions are now approaching 40 million a month.

  We also use our regional and local outlets, in particular local radio, to heighten awareness of the full range of sports events across the UK. As the City of Glasgow notes in its submission, regional and local outlets will frequently take on coverage of events staged in their area, or of particular interest to local audiences. They will also as a matter of routine follow the performances of sportsmen and women who come from their region. We believe such coverage plays an integral role in promoting interest in sport within the UK. We would draw the Committee's attention in particular to the extensive commitments by BBC Scotland to the Scottish Premier League, golf, snooker, rugby union, shinty and hockey; by BBC South to sailing; and by BBC Northern Ireland to Gaelic Football.


  Over the period that has elapsed since the Committee's last inquiry on this subject, we have concentrated on building partnerships with UK sports' bodies to enable us to work together for the long term benefits of the sports and events they represent.


  Working with motor racing and cricket bodies, we have developed radio magazine programmes to highlight topical issues in these sports. A segment within summer editions of Grandstand is dedicated to athletics around the UK, from schools' competitions to professional meetings. Our Passion for Sport campaign, which recognises grass roots sporting involvement, is now into its fifth year. Last year, the multimedia campaign Get Your Kit On, which aimed to stimulate teenagers' active participation in sport, worked as a highly successful collaboration between the BBC and Sport England, the Football Association, the Lawn Tennis Association, the Golf Foundation, and UK Athletics.

  We have also worked extensively with a number of UK sports bodies to assist them in developing their online presence, and in generating interest in the events that they run. Our aim has been to use our expertise to assist sports bodies in stimulating interest more widely.

  We are in the process of exploring digital television's potential for enhancing the coverage of UK sports events. Last year, our Wimbledon coverage on digital terrestrial television included a supporting interactive text service. This year we hope to be able to offer digital viewers a choice of simultaneous action on six different courts, which will allow us to show more British outer court action, including the Junior Championships. We are also developing similar enhancements to accompany coverage of the Open Golf, which will enable viewers to select the action they wish to follow from tee to green at the final holes.

  The return of the FA Cup to the BBC was in a large part a response to concerns that the tournament had lost its profile and its impact. Here as in all our sport coverage, we aim to create a broadcasting relationship which truly develops interest in events, and which goes far beyond live match commentary.


  As host broadcaster for M2002 we have taken on responsibility for providing live coverage of the competition for worldwide distribution, and for making world class broadcasting facilities available to up to 72 Commonwealth broadcasters. The pictures that we will supply will make use of the BBC's considerable ongoing investment in research and development of broadcasting technology. The BBC's work in this area has already advanced sports coverage internationally, including the use of bunker cameras, cricket stump cameras, developments in underwater photography, and the use of lightweight cameras on vehicles, attached to headgear, and inside boats.

  We have also already undertaken to act as host broadcaster for the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Birmingham in 2003, and for the World Outdoor Athletics Championships in London in 2005. We are also heavily involved in the World Amateur Boxing Championships which are taking place in Belfast later this year. This is in addition to annual commitments such as Wimbledon and the London Marathon.

  The role of host broadcaster is not one that we undertake lightly. The investment required is extensive, and rarely brings commercial benefits. We have a duty to our licence fee payers to look carefully at each event presented to us, to assess the level of international interest that it will generate, and to balance our responsibilities to develop the UK as a venue for international sporting events with our duties to those who fund us. For this reason, we are not able automatically to act as host broadcaster for every international sports event staged in the UK. Equally, our obligations to our audiences as a whole mean that we cannot respond positively to every request for coverage which we receive.

  Having said that we believe that we have a strong record in coverage of minority sports events, and where we feel unable to act as host broadcaster, we may still make an investment in the event by purchasing coverage. This was the position which we took in relation to the 2000 World Cycling Championships in Manchester.

  When we are unable to offer the level of coverage that is sought from us, we always make clear from the outset the degree of involvement which we are able to give. We work with sports bodies to suggest to them other sources of broadcast coverage, such as BBC local radio, and to assist them in placing a realistic value on the broadcasting of their event.


Cost of Rights

  As the Committee will be aware, we are in constant negotiations to retain and to acquire rights for sporting events in order to ensure that they continue to be available free of charge to all UK licence payers. Where live coverage of events is only available on pay-TV, we will seek to purchase highlights in order to maintain limited free-to-air coverage of the event.

  Competition rights across all platforms—TV, radio and online—is driving up the value of sports rights out of all proportion to inflation. We estimate that across the range of sports, rights costs have risen 800 per cent over the last four years.

  While we welcome the fact that sport is now generating more income from the sale of rights than ever before, and that the opportunities for sports viewing and listening are multiplying, we are concerned that those without subscription television are becoming excluded from key sports events, and that the restricted access and smaller audiences which accompany the switch to pay-TV may work to the detriment of UK sport's development.

  There are signs that a number of UK sporting bodies are becoming aware of the benefits of ensuring that the events which they run are available to the general public via free-to-air broadcasters. During our most recent appearance before the Committee (Thursday 8 February: CMS Select Committee Inquiry into the Communications White Paper), we referred to indications that rugby union clubs are realising the importance of being on free-to-air television to promote the sport, increase the audiences for matches, and attract international competition. It is too early to know whether this trend will be repeated across the full range of UK sports.

  As part of our submission to the Committee on the last occasion on which an inquiry of this kind was conducted, we highlighted our concern about Kirch's acquisition of 2002 and 2006 World Cup rights and the potential for the competition to be sold exclusively to pay-TV companies. As the Committee may be aware from press reports, Kirch appears to dispute the applicability of the listed events legislation to the World Cup. The BBC believes it is extremely important that events which have been identified as being of major national interest by the UK Government should continue to be available within the UK on a free-to-air basis.


  Further worrying developments concern the availability of sports clips for news and online use. We believe that news reporting of sport is critically important to building the profile, particularly of minority sports, because of its ability to extend beyond traditional audiences.

  We would agree with ITN's contention that sport clips should be freely available for use both in news bulletins and in an online (news) context. Our view is that the Sports News Access Code in its current form ensures that this happens as far as UK footage is concerned, and we are satisfied that the issue of rights owned by pay-per-view companies has now been resolved.

  We share ITN's concern about the issues surrounding the use of video clips online which emerged during the Sydney 2000 Olympics, when Internet rights were specifically withheld. We believe that the best way to resolve such issues is through international agreements which mirror for new media existing arrangements for TV. We consistently work to achieve this as we negotiate rights contracts.


  The climate is now such that we need actively to safeguard the Olympic principle of "sport for all" by working with Government and Parliament, sporting bodies and other public service free-to-air broadcasters to ensure that key sports events which play a critical part in national culture and identity remain available to everyone in the UK without additional cost.

  For universal access to be meaningful, we believe it is critical that viewers and listeners can access coverage as part of the rich and varied prime time schedule which they rightly expect from public service broadcasters. This means access to highlights for events held outside our time zone, access to clips within news bulletins, and access to full coverage online.

  The BBC fully supports the Government's sport strategy, as set out in A Sporting Future for All, to ensure that a proportion of sports' broadcasting revenues is dedicated to growing sport at the grass roots. As the Committee has duly recognised, we believe that no consideration of the staging of international sporting events is complete without taking into account strategies for the wider development of UK sport. This is a goal towards which, as a public service broadcaster, we are consistently working.

March 2001

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