Certain listed events of national interest, including the Olympic Games, football World Cup, and Wimbledon tennis, are subject to legal provisions intended to ensure that live coverage is freely available to most of the population in the United Kingdom. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is to review the rules. It will consider whether public service broadcasters in particular should have the opportunity to carry these events on their online platforms as well as their traditional television channels.

The listed events regime helps ensure the British public can view major sporting moments at no additional cost by giving public service broadcasters the opportunity to bid for the broadcasting rights. This has meant that more than 40 million people watched Euro 2020 on the BBC and 36 million people watched the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Millions will also be watching the World Cup across the BBC and ITV.

The Digital Rights Review follows a commitment in the government broadcasting white paper published in April to reform the rights regulations for listed events, sometimes called the ‘Crown Jewels’ of sport.

The inclusion of an event on the list does not guarantee the broadcast of that event on free-to-air television, nor does it guarantee the broadcast of that event in its entirety. No rights holder can be compelled to sell its rights, and no broadcaster can be compelled to acquire rights.

Qualifying broadcasters, currently the five public service broadcasters, must have the opportunity to acquire the rights on fair and reasonable terms.

The review will consider whether the listed events provisions for live coverage should also apply to on-demand services.

The DCMS notes that if the BBC broadcast the Olympics 100 metres final live in the middle of the night, but on-demand rights were sold to a subscription service, a wide audience might not be able to watch the event.

Something similar happened when the BBC, which had the rights to the Tokyo Olympics, sub-licensed some rights to Discovery. As a result, the BBC was only able to show two simultaneous events live, unlike previous years when it offered up to 24 live streams.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said: “As viewing habits shift online, it is right that we review our rules and consider whether updates are needed to ensure our brilliant public service broadcasters can continue to bring major events to the public at no extra cost.”

The department has published the terms of reference to the review, which will not consider which events are listed. The government says the current list strikes an appropriate balance between retaining free-to-air sports events for the public while allowing rights holders to negotiate agreements in the best interests of their sport. The government has indicated that it is fully committed to the listed events regime and any changes would only be in relation to where audiences choose to watch sport.

It says the review will balance the desire from audiences to watch national sporting events at no additional cost with the ability for sporting organisations to generate revenues from sports rights to re-invest in their sports at all levels.

The consultation on the Digital Rights Review closes on 15 December 2022. Further details, including the terms of reference and list of events covered, are available from the DCMS web site.