Don’t Just Blame Channel 9

You can blame Channel 9 for most of the issues associated with the free-to-air television coverage of the Olympics in Australia.

You can blame Channel 9 for the fact that by 7:00am EST on the first day of competition, you knew that it was going to be a frustrating fortnight. That morning, after Australians were encouraged to rise early to watch swimming finals between 5:00 and 6:00am, Channel 9 then repeated the swimming finals between 6:00 and 7:00. Some of them had been repeated twice while “London Live” was still on, before Channel 9’s “repeat” show began at 9:00. So much for the Opals fighting through a tighter-than-expected match against Great Britain, or former gold medalist Natalie Cook and her partner playing the reigning gold medalists and superstars of beach volleyball Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh.

You can blame Channel 9 for the fact that you have no idea when you’re supposed to be watching to catch your favourite event. On the middle Sunday, host Cameron Williams let the audience know that the men’s 10,000 metres was “coming up”, when those who were simultaneously watching Foxtel’s iPad app knew that the race was already 6 minutes old. In fact, during the 27.5 minutes it took Mohamed Farah to win the race, Channel 9 did not show any live sport. They showed the race an hour or so later. Still during “London Live”, of course.

You can blame Channel 9 for the fact that at times, the replays have been shown across more than one day. While live sport was being played in more than 10 sports on Day 3, those watching Channel 9 saw a replay and discussion of the 4x100m freestyle relay in which Australia finished fourth the day before – early that morning Australian time. You could only assume it was being replayed just in case you hadn’t seen it either live that morning, or replayed ad nauseam on “London Live” that morning, or replayed on “London Gold” that morning, or replayed on “London Gold” that evening, or on Channel 9’s website or on any news report that day.

You can blame Channel 9 for the fact that before they show a replay, they often reveal the result of the event. So, on the off chance that you haven’t already seen the event, you will not be watching the replay with any sense of suspense or excitement.

You can blame Channel 9 for the fact that there is no Olympic material broadcast on free-to-air television between 11:00am and 4:00pm each day. You can only assume that they are not broadcasting anything during these hours as they are loath to show replays of events.

But you know all of this. And you’ve probably already spent time in your lounge room blaming Channel 9 for all of the above.

So let’s pause the vent-at-Channel-9-a-thon for just a moment. For there’s one thing about the coverage that you can’t blame Channel 9 for.

In Australia, the Anti-Siphoning List is the responsibility of the Government department that is the Australian Communications and Media Authority. According to Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, the list exists so that the most popular or nationally important sporting events are “available for free to the general public”.

The law is extremely well intentioned: any sporting event on the anti-siphoning list cannot be purchased by a pay-tv station unless no free-to-air tv stations want to purchase the event. So, for example, the AFL cannot sell the Grand Final to Foxtel – no matter how much money Foxtel would pay for it – unless all of the free-to-air stations choose not to purchase the rights to show the game.

As such, Australians can rest assured that all of the events on the list, from the Olympics to the AFL and NRL finals, from the Melbourne Cup to cricket tests played in Australia, from the World Cup to the Australian Open tennis, will always be shown on free-to-air tv.

There’s just one catch:

“Free-to-air television broadcasters are required to premiere events, on the anti-siphoning list, on their analog channel and core digital channels. Listed events may be simulcast or repeated on the broadcaster’s digital multi-channels, but cannot be shown first on the multi-channel.”

So don’t blame Channel 9.

You can blame the Federal Government for the fact that Channel 9 is showing the same Olympic broadcast on both Channel 9 and Gem. For the law states that any Olympic events cannot be shown on Gem unless they have already been broadcast, or are being simultaneously broadcast, on Channel 9.

The law is supposed to protect people in Australia who don’t yet have access to Gem from missing out on the broadcast of key events. But the law ignores the fact that Channel 9 would always show the most popular events on their main channel anyway, to ensure the highest ratings.

Blame Channel 9 for their atrocious coverage of the Olympics. But blame the Federal Government for the fact that we are watching that coverage on more than one channel.

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