Amendment 19

Media Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 20 May 2024.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay:

Moved by Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay

19: Clause 20, page 24, line 3, at end insert—“(aa) where it is a service that forms part of a designated internet programme service, it satisfies the conditions in subsection (2AA), and”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment and my amendment to Clause 20 at page 24, line 5, add to the requirements for a relevant service which is part of a multi-service designated internet programme service (see section 362AA(10)(c), inserted by Clause 28).

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, I rise briefly to address the government amendments which I have tabled in this group: Amendments 19 to 24, 27 and 28, and 36 to 41. These, although numerous, are all minor technical amendments to provide Ofcom with the necessary tools to ensure that the regime delivers for audiences. The amendments will close off any opportunity for non-public service broadcaster services to qualify. They will update the provisions on contract voiding and provide consistency in definitions, in line with changes that were made to the Bill in another place. They will enable Ofcom to specify that audiences should be able to continue to watch events from the beginning or to rewind while an event is in progress—perhaps including debates in your Lordships’ House—in its adequate live coverage regulations; and they will ensure that Ofcom has appropriate flexibility to determine any penalties. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords can support these amendments and I look forward to noble Lords making the case for the other amendments that they have tabled in this group. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Grey-Thompson Baroness Grey-Thompson Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 25, 26 and 30, which are in my name. I draw attention to my interests in the register: I am also a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Media Group.

Whether it is Wimbledon, the Olympic 100 metre final, the Euros joy and World Cup despair of the Lionesses, or the optimism of the FA Cup, listed events have a special place in people’s hearts and memories—but how and when we watch these big sporting moments that can unite nations and encourage participation, social cohesion and pride is changing. Thanks to the listed events regime, devised in the mid-1990s, major sporting events are freely available to all audiences, especially those who cannot afford to watch sport behind a paywall—great if you can watch in real time on your TV, but currently there is no protection for digital on-demand coverage of these much-loved events. If no action is taken, anyone who wants to watch, say, Team GB on their tablet or smartphone or see the highlights could miss out, especially with events taking place in different time zones.

At Tokyo 2020, the gold medal-winning performance by BMX specialist Charlotte Worthington was watched by just 400,000 people at the time, as it happened overnight, but in the days that followed different forms of short-form coverage of the race generated nearly a tenfold increase in views; and, while the TV reach to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham was about 20% lower than for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, there were around six times more on-demand views of digital clips. Soon, digital and on-demand viewing will be the norm for watching legends being made. Looking beyond Los Angeles 2028 and Brisbane 2032, could Great Britain’s medal successes be behind a paywall?

Now is the time to not miss the opportunity. The Media Bill offers a once-in-a-generation chance to protect these moments for all of us, however, whenever and wherever we watch, and I am seeking to bring the regime up to date to safeguard the future of listed events for the next generation. The new clause will give enhanced regulatory protection so that these shared national moments are available to us all, making sure the benefits of watching on your TV in real time are afforded to clips and highlights, and will allow for time-shifted viewing, enabling people to watch on tablets and smartphones; and it would secure, where possible, adequate digital on-demand coverage of listed events made available free of charge to us here in the United Kingdom.

Audiences are changing. For Wimbledon in 2023, BBC coverage was streamed 54.3 million times on iPlayer and BBC Sport online—a new record. The men’s singles final peaked at 11.3 million on BBC1, with streams up by 58% on iPlayer, and the women’s singles final peaked at 4.5 million on BBC1, with streams up by 85% on iPlayer. For the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, 12 million watched England’s Lionesses versus Spain on BBC1, with an additional 3.9 million streams on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport online. There were 25.7 million streams on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport online across the tournament—a 75% increase on the 2019 World Cup.

It is not just the BBC that wants to see this. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee recently concluded that

“digital rights should be included as part of the listed events” and an independent report commissioned by Ofcom last year concluded that

“as expectations about the availability of live and secondary coverage of sporting events of national interest changes, we think that the current linear TV-centred regime risks failing to take into account the increasing popularity of secondary coverage”.

We know the Government recognise the issue and consulted industry a year ago, yet nothing has been done. Please do not let this opportunity pass. The time to act is now.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, this is a large group, as the Minister said in his opening comments, dominated mainly by government amendments. We are grateful to him for his explanation of the effects of the amendments, which we broadly welcome, although we have some questions about them. In particular, I would like a more precise understanding of the meaning of the Minister’s Amendment 19; I had hoped it might make our Amendment 29 irrelevant, but I do not think it does. All of us in the Committee are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for tabling Amendments 25, 26 and 30, and I look forward to hearing something positive about them from the Minister.

We on these Benches have two amendments in this group: Amendments 29 and 31A. Amendment 29 would have one simple effect: it is designed to make provision for the coverage of listed events, which is not the same as live coverage. As the noble Baroness has explained, the position regarding the Olympics is, frankly, ludicrous: unless you are able to catch the live coverage of an event, you cannot view the same event on catch-up TV or in an edited highlights programme. Where the Olympics, a World Cup or similar events are in time zones that are 12 or 13 hours different from the UK’s, the position is even more ridiculous: sports fans are forced to become insomniacs—and worse—to watch blue-ribbon events within the Olympics programme. I am sure that was never the intention when the listed events regime was created, and I hope that we will hear from the Minister today that this peculiar state of affairs will be put right.

Amendment 31A seeks to insert a new clause. This reflects the concerns brought up by internet providers about the quality of listed events in the face of competing demands on our internet system. As we consider these changes to listed events, it is important that we also consider the audiovisual quality of digital delivery. Our frameworks must ensure good reliability to support a viewing experience worthy of the importance of these live events. Can the Minister answer the question that the new clause asks about how we ensure that listed events get their fair share of internet infrastructure as we see the digital share of television viewing rise further? That is especially true for listed events but it is worth asking more generally as well.

In the same vein, Amendment 30, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is of course one that we support, although it seems to be a more belt-and-braces version of our own. I am not wedded to a particular form of words, and if the noble Baroness has spotted a deficiency that requires plugging and her amendment achieves the same end as ours, we will happily support it at a later stage.

We are sympathetic to Amendment 31 from the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Cricket misses out in terms of coverage, and that is surely the minimum that we should expect for this much underrated summer game. Test and one-day format cricket have the ability to capture the national mood and imagination, and the nature and rhythm of cricket, with its rolling narrative, is surely worthy of a more advanced listed billing. I have never understood why test matches are not listed; the Ashes series, with its long national rivalry involving Australia, certainly should be. As a devoted cricket fan and participant in 60-plus seasons, I make a strong plea to your Lordships’ Committee to listen to this argument. I appreciate that my case is highly subjective but the recent Ashes series in the last 15 to 20 years have been compelling, and there is a compelling case for this event to be listed as well.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 5:00, 20 May 2024

My Lords, this is a series of issues around the importance of sporting events being listed as cultural assets. If you do not do it in a way that holds the full panoply of technology as it stands today, you are going to miss out on the principle. As somebody who lost quite a lot of sleep trying to follow the Tokyo Games, et cetera, I am slightly annoyed that I did not add my name to all the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, on the importance of overnight digital and highlight coverage. Live is usually preferable but you will not be able to see everything. For events that have multiple sports, you should not be able to see everything; it is a chance to see sports you do not otherwise see. It is a chance to see the panoply of sporting events going on.

We really need an undertaking from the Government that they are going to take this seriously. Is it a step back to try to get your video recorder set for the right time? I do not know, but that is the alternative. You either make sure that this is available or you accept that people will miss out. Once you have legislated to say that they do not, you will make sure they do. Can we have an undertaking here? I prefer my amendment to the one from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on this, but his amendment certainly would be better than nothing. However, I much prefer the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.

As to the one on cricket, I wondered whether the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, would be containable, and it was not. I think that probably tells you why cricket should be there. Cricket is a major sporting event in this country. When the cricket team does well, the whole country has a lift. It is something unique; it is that bit of cultural capital that we keep. Anybody who doubts that, just go and watch what happens when we do well or badly. It is there; it fits into that structure. Other sports may do it, but I think cricket has a special place in the summer for this. Can the Government undertake to say how we are going to start to address this?

These are genuine issues, raised to make something that the Government have agreed to work. If we can get some firm commitment that they are going to take all these concerns and put them into something solid, I for one will have to withdraw on this; if not, we will be going back to it. We have no real choice. You are talking about sport’s place in our society as a cultural activity and something that touches the whole nation. If we are not going to do this properly, why are we doing it at all?

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, I intervene briefly to express my support for Amendment 30 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. I think she has captured, very importantly, how the character of watching major sporting events has changed over recent years, certainly a great deal since the Communications Act 2003, when I had the pleasure of working with Lord Puttnam and others in another place on that Act—the Standing Committee and the Puttnam commission—back then. Of course, when we are looking at listed events, people were understandably focused on the live coverage in those days because that was predominantly how people watched sporting events. That has changed and we must adapt the structure of the legislation to match that.

I will come on, if I may, to the difference between Amendments 29 and 30. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, referred kindly to Amendment 30 and I think there are advantages. I note that Amendment 29 somewhat suggests that the noble Lord and the Opposition Front Bench have started to write amendments a bit as a Government in waiting in a way in which we tend to see the Government thinking it a very good idea for Ministers to have the powers to do things however they wish. I think now the Opposition Front Bench wants to have similar sorts of powers—

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

I know that the noble Lord is sticking to the line to take, and nothing is being taken for granted. I completely understand. However, he will understand why I favour the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson: because it incorporates the structure of this proper legislative reform in relation to on-demand services. It does not apply where somebody has access to on-demand rights and makes them available in a number of places to unconnected persons. That would not necessarily fall to be regulated because it is not exclusive, and the use of exclusivity is really important. It reflects what is done in relation to existing live events. Equally, if it is made available free to air or free of charge, it would likewise not need Ofcom’s permission; again, that is like live events.

The amendment very carefully addresses itself to the listed events—major events of national importance—where they are intended to be available on demand, exclusively by those rights holders only and by nobody else, and behind a paywall. This means, in effect, they are not available as most people would expect to see national events in the catch-up and on-demand world of broadcasting that we now live in. It is an excellent amendment and demands close attention by the Government. I urge my noble friend to consider whether this is now the time to make this additional change to the structure of the regulation of listed events.

Photo of The Bishop of Leeds The Bishop of Leeds Bishop

My Lords, surely at a time when we want children to get away from the telly and actually do sports, it is right that they be confronted by sports that they may know nothing about. Was it not curling, whatever that is, which became very popular and captured the imagination? Most of us could not believe that there was a sport where you push something along in that way.

There is a serious point about how children and young people know what sports are there. It is a bit like the inscription by Orwell’s statue outside the BBC:

“If liberty means anything … it means the right” to be confronted by opinions you do not like, or something like that. That must go for sports as well, but I really need to make a confession. I live in Headingley; I have never been. Cricket is one of those sports that I suppose some people like. I have never understood it, but I would rather go to curling.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

The House was stunned into silence by the revelation from the right reverend Prelate.

I thank noble Lords for the contributions they have made and the points raised on the other amendments in this group. We, of course, had a bit of a pre-match friendly during our debate on sport led by the noble Lord, Lord Wood of Anfield, on Thursday. Let me start with Amendments 25 and 26 from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.

The Government recognise the intent behind the noble Baroness’s amendments, and I know that she has had concerns about in particular the necessity of the new multisport provisions, whether “adequate live coverage” will meet the mark, and whether public service broadcasters will have the freedom to choose what they cover in the interests of their audiences. Perhaps I may take the opportunity to seek to offer her and other noble Lords reassurance on these questions.

First, on whether these provisions are necessary, the Bill introduces the concept of adequate live coverage for multisport events to ensure that partnerships between broadcasters which deliver for UK audiences can still go ahead in an age where dozens of sporting events can be taking place concurrently. We do not want inadvertently to create a regime which would prevent deals like the one currently in place between Warner Bros. Discovery and the BBC. Expansion of the scope of services covered by the regime to resolve the streaming loophole poses risks to these mutually beneficial partnerships between public service broadcasters and commercial broadcasters for multisport events. That is because the existing requirement for both parties to have the same coverage does not reflect the way that coverage is actually shared between them across different types of services.

There is no intention to weaken the public service broadcasters’ hand in negotiations, simply to ensure that partnerships between them and commercial broadcasters can function effectively to deliver the best outcomes for audiences and rights holders.

On whether “adequate live coverage” will hit the mark for audiences, it will be for Ofcom to make new regulations setting out what will be considered adequate. Following scrutiny and debate in another place, the Government amended to the Bill to set out the matters that Ofcom must take into account when defining adequate live coverage in its regulations. This is an example of Parliament giving direction to the regulator through legislation. This includes the forms of live coverage that would satisfy the interests of the public, and the desirability of facilitating arrangements which result in live coverage of listed events being shown on both public service and non-public service broadcasters.

To protect audiences’ interests, and in keeping with deals we have seen before, any partnership of this nature will require at least two live broadcasts on public service broadcasters. Ofcom is given the power to require more than two streams if it deems it necessary or appropriate, and it could also set requirements regarding the percentage of coverage or other considerations.

Finally, I think the noble Baroness, like me and others who have spoken, believes that it is vital that public service broadcasters continue to have the flexibility and editorial freedom to show the most incredible moments of these multisport events to public audiences. I reassure her and other noble Lords that the Bill enables Ofcom to require that “adequate live coverage” must allow the broadcaster involved to select what parts of the proceedings it wishes to show. It is vital that public service broadcasters maintain complete editorial control of live broadcasts when they enter partnerships so that they have the freedom to make decisions about what events to screen for the British public, and the Bill makes provisions for this.

For those reasons, I do not think that we need the amendments the noble Baroness has brought before us. However, I hope my words have provided reassurance about the checks and balances in place to deliver for audiences in the way she seeks.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

Is the Minister, in effect, saying that he is convinced that, under the current regime, catch up and clips will continue to be available, certainly when multiple sports are happening at different times? Will we get slightly better guidance on that? Will it be available for us to look it up and check on it—certainly before the next stage of this Bill?

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

Yes, the Bill caters for the concerns that have been set out, but I will happily discuss that further with the noble Lord if on reflection he disagrees with the reasons I have set out.

I turn now to the noble Lord’s Amendment 31. The Government are keen to ensure that sporting events are made available to the public as widely as possible. That is why we have the listed events regime. We acknowledge the interest that fans have in watching the sports teams of our home nations compete. As noble Lords will appreciate, however, sports rights holders use income from the sale of broadcast rights for the benefit of the sporting sector more generally, so it is important that the regime continues to strike the right balance between accessibility and the ability of sporting organisations to generate revenues which they can invest in their sports at all levels.

The Government believe that the current list of events works to deliver the best outcome and strikes an appropriate balance. We therefore have no plans to review the list at this time. I know that will disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Addington, but it is why I cannot accept his Amendment 31.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked me to say a bit more about Amendment 19. We have taken the opportunity, as recommended during the pre-legislative scrutiny process for the Bill, to take steps to ensure that the streamer loophole is closed. This was a major flaw in the current regime which allowed for unregulated online services to acquire listed sports rights, while leaving Ofcom powerless to do anything. The current drafting therefore ensures that all TV-like services providing live content to UK audiences are in scope of the regime. Amendment 19, and Amendments 20 to 22, are technical amendments to future-proof the regime by closing off an opportunity for non-public service broadcaster services to qualify through the back door. The amendments tie qualification for the listed events regime to the way in which qualification for prominence is decided.

The noble Lord may find that his Amendment 29 does not do quite what he seeks to do, to be candid. I shall turn to that and Amendment 30 now. The Government recognise the intent behind the noble Lord’s Amendment 29; namely, allowing the Secretary of State to implement the conclusion of the digital rights review in the event that it concludes that the listed events regime should be extended to include digital rights. This is a recommendation made by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in another place, and although there is a great deal of support in Parliament for it, it is not a straightforward matter.

Above all, it is important that we maintain the right balance between access for audiences and the commercial freedoms that allow rights-holders to reinvest, as I have set out. The Government’s priority when striking that balance is the impact on the public. It is of course important that audiences are able to watch and celebrate major sporting moments; at the same time, broadcasting rights provide essential income to the national governing bodies, which they reinvest, whether that is at elite level or grass-roots level, through better facilities for spectators, hiring great coaches or distributing new equipment.

Noble Lords have seen how technical the government amendments are in order simply to ensure that the streamer loophole is closed. If we were to add digital rights, that would provide a much bigger challenge, bringing much more complexity. Even an amendment to add a power could have unintended consequences if it were not done carefully.

I reassure noble Lords that this is an issue under careful consideration and that the Government have not made a decision, However, for the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept the amendment tabled by the noble Lord today.

Linked to that amendment, the approach taken in Amendment 30 seeks to bring digital rights within scope of the regime. Again, it is important that we maintain the right balance between access and allowing rights-holders to reinvest in their sports at all levels. I think it would be more appropriate to allow the Government to evaluate the issue fully, including how it could best be delivered, before we consider legislation that enacts any particular conclusion.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 5:15, 20 May 2024

I get the sense that the Minister is sympathetic to the point we have made here and that it is more a question of timescale. If the Government are looking at this, what sort of timescale do they think would be right for them to ponder the question more widely?

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

I am loath to set out a precise timescale, but the noble Lord is right: it is a matter of looking at this more fully, as well as considering the complexities of how it could be borne out if it were concluded that that were necessary.

I hope noble Lords will see, through the government amendments in this group, that we have worked with parliamentary counsel to respond to the points that were raised by the Select Committee and Members in another place about the scope of services to be captured by the regime. We have now closed the streaming loophole, which could otherwise have seen live coverage intended for UK audiences disappearing behind a paywall without the protections that the regime offers. However, as I have set out, it is a complex matter that needs a bit more thought. I am happy to set out some of that thinking and to allow officials to do so with the noble Lord if he would find that useful. For those reasons, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, will understand that we cannot support her Amendment 30.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has tabled Amendment 31A. I agree with him that it is crucial that audiences are able to view their favourite sports live in whatever way works for them, whether that is on a traditional TV platform or over the internet. However, as new technologies such as internet protocol television—IPTV—become more prevalent, we need to ensure that they continue to serve audiences. This amendment would ask Ofcom to review the delivery of listed events and other audiovisual content online, with a focus on how internet service providers can work with broadcasters to deliver IPTV. As I have said in previous debates, my department has an ongoing programme of work on the future of TV distribution. As part of this, we are working closely with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to consider many of the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has raised today, including the reliability and quality of content provision on IPTV. That work is also ongoing.

Ultimately, while I agree that the issues that noble Lords have raised are important ones, this is not a Bill which is focused on the UK’s digital infrastructure. By considering the issue with regard to only one internet service—namely, television—we risk taking a piecemeal approach to what is an important and broader policy issue. For that reason, I am afraid I cannot accept the noble Lord’s Amendment 31A either. I commend Amendment 19 to the Committee.

Amendment 19 agreed.