Call to split up Sky TV

Last updated 00:00 21/05/2008

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TVNZ wants the Government to split up its rival Sky TV, claiming sports fans are big losers in a system that allows the pay-TV operator to "hoard" big events and charge subscribers a "sports tax" to watch them.

In a submission to be made public today, TVNZ calls for strict regulations to limit Sky's growing dominance over free-to-air broadcasters, with sports fans now paying more than $14 a week to watch major sports events live.

TVNZ's submission to the Culture and Heritage Ministry, which is reviewing broadcasting regulation, says sport is critical to the national identity and Sky has a virtual monopoly on coverage.

With a Sky TV sports subscription costing $64 a month, or $768 annually, "many New Zealanders are effectively paying a sports tax", the submission says.

The public broadcaster wants marketplace rules introduced "to create a fair and level playing field for all".

It suggests Sky be split into at least two businesses, one to make and buy programmes, the other to manage Sky's satellite transmission network and set-tops boxes.

Sky, which also owns free-to-air broadcaster Prime, declined to comment yesterday on TVNZ's submission.

About 720,000 householders subscribe to Sky, which has the rights to all major rugby test matches, cricket, soccer, racing, golf, basketball, rowing and athletics. More than 80 per cent of all New Zealand-produced sports content is broadcast on Sky, TVNZ says.

It says Sky TV was given the freedom to create a business model not seen overseas and such dominance "could lead to a lack of media diversity in New Zealand".

The submission calls for rules to stop Sky buying exclusive rights to events of "national importance".

Australia adopted "anti-siphoning laws" in 1992, which mean free-to-air television networks must get first rights to such events. Progressive leader Jim Anderton called for legislation in 2001 to protect New Zealand's "icon events".

TVNZ says Sky's tactics included "hoarding" sports content by acquiring free-to-air rights to events it did not show live and in full on Prime.

Sky had also used Prime, which it bought in 2005 for $30 million, to secure both pay-TV and free-to-air sporting deals. Prime had been used to satisfy the International Olympic Committee in its successful bid for the 2010 winter and 2012 summer Olympics.

 TVWorks, owner of TV3 and C4, agreed the public was not well served by a "pay-TV monopoly" and called for legislation requiring Sky to sell Prime.

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Sky's submission said its "very significant" investment in pay-TV was made on the basis of light-handed regulation. A change would threaten further investment by the company.

 STILL FREE

Rugby: IRB World Sevens (TVNZ).

Soccer: selected Fifa World Cup matches (TVNZ).

Netball: selected World Championship matches, trans-Tasman league (TVNZ).

Olympics: 2008 Beijing Olympics (TVNZ) - uncertain beyond.

Motorsport: NZ V8 series, Toyota Racing Series, MX1 Motocross, MotoGP, Indy Racing League, British F3 (TVNZ), V8 Supercar Series, A1GP World Cup of Motorsport (TV3).

Tennis: ASB Classic, Heineken Open (TVNZ).

Golf: PGA Championship (TV3).

- The Dominion Post

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