September 18, 2019 / 5:13 PM / a year ago

Britain aims to make sure women's sports air on free TV

CAMBRIDGE, England (Reuters) - The biggest events in women’s sport should be “listed” to guarantee they are broadcast on British free-to-air television so mass audiences can watch and be inspired, Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan said on Wednesday.

Over two decades ago, Britain drew up a list of sporting events of national interest, such as the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup Finals and the Grand National horse race, that must be made available to free-to-air broadcasters on a fair and reasonable basis.

The aim was to ensure the “crown jewels” of sport could be watched by viewers who did not want to subscribe to pay-TV services like Sky, which had large budgets to pay for rights.

Morgan said she had written to TV rights holders to advocate adding major women’s sporting events to the list, bringing parity with the men’s events already included.

“A record-breaking 28.1 million people tuned into (this year’s) Women’s World Cup. I want to build on this momentum and make sure future generations of female sporting talent can be inspired by who they see on their screens,” she told the RTS television industry conference in Cambridge.

“I have written to the relevant rights holders to seek their views about adding women’s sporting events to the listed events regime.”

She said that where a men’s event was listed, the women’s equivalent would be too.

“This would be an important step in giving female sporting talent the coverage they deserve and putting men’s and women’s sport on an equal footing at last,” said Morgan, who was appointed in July.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Women’s FA and Scottish FA Cup Finals could be added to the main list, while women’s Test Cricket matches could be put on a secondary list for highlights packages.

Morgan also told TV executives in Cambridge that British broadcasters must be more creative to ensure they held their own against subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services like Netflix.

“Those that do not pool their resources and talent will find it difficult to succeed in this new age,” she said.

Britain’s two biggest free-to-air channels, the commercial ITV and the licence-fee funded BBC, have joined forces to launch a British-focused SVOD called Britbox.

ITV Chief Executive Carolyn McCall said the company was preparing for Britbox’s launch before the end of the year.

It will be priced at 5.99 pounds a month, in line with a basic standard-definition Netflix subscription in Britain but higher than the 4.99 pounds Apple has said it will charge for its new Apple TV+ service.

McCall said audience research had shown that customers thought it was still good value.

“The most important thing will be to ensure that we communicate that really, really well to consumers in many different ways: it’s value and the concept, (and) how distinctive a proposition it is,” she said.  

Editing by Stephen Addison

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