Football matches such as next Saturday's World Cup qualifier between England and Italy could be shown live on terrestrial television under proposals floated by television executives and likely to be considered by the Government in the coming weeks. Cathy Newman reports.
This weekend's decisive game will only be shown live to BSkyB subscribers, as it is not one of a range of "listed" sporting events which have to be shown on terrestrial television. However, senior television executives, who have been consulted by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) during its review of listed events, say the Government is considering suggestions that rights to events such as the World Cup should revert to terrestrial television if the England team reaches "decisive" - or qualifying - stages.
One senior television source, who has had conversations with the Government but declined to be named, said: "The Government thinks there's a problem with events that run over a long period of time such as the Olympics or the World Cup. If you list all of them, terrestrial broadcasters don't have the capacity to carry everything, but if you don't list any, when you get a big decisive match, terrestrial television doesn't get the games live."
The DCMS has now finished consulting on which sporting events should be reserved for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, and is soon to announce the formation of a working group to deliberate on the subject. The group, which is to decide which sports should be protected by Christmas, will be made up of representatives from the media, sport and viewers' organisations.
A DCMS spokesman said last night: "This is an industry idea that will no doubt be put to the working group when it's set up."
Listed events at the moment include cricket Test matches involving England, the Derby, the World Cup Finals, the FA Cup final, the Grand National, the Olympic Games, and the Wimbedon tennis championships. News that BSkyB's grip on key sports events may be loosened once the Government's review is completed, co-incided with somewhat bearish rumblings from News Corporation, owner of 40 per cent of the satellite broadcaster.
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp, sent BSkyB shares down as much as 8.5p to 457p at one stage after he said that the satellite broadcaster faced increased challenges over the next couple of years from cable operators. Speaking at News Corp's annual meeting in Adelaide, he said: "We see a flattish one to two years, but after that we see a brilliant future."
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