Rules covering sport’s ‘crown jewels’ poised for revamp to protect BBC and terrestrial TV channels

Rules governing the broadcast of the so-called “Crown Jewels” of sport are to be rewritten to stop the BBC and other terrestrial channels losing the rights to the World Cup and Olympics in future.

The Government has announced changes to regulations that safeguard events that also include the FA Cup final, Rugby World Cup final and Grand National for live free-to-air transmission.

The changes, included in a new broadcasting White Paper to be published on Thursday, will see the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 given first refusal on bidding for the UK rights to events on the Crown Jewels list.

Current rules created via the Broadcasting Act 1996 state those rights must be made available for purchase first to channels capable of showing them free-to-air to 95 per cent of the country.

But a dramatic change in viewing habits in the multi-platform age has sparked concern the Public Sector Broadcasters in question could face competition from others who might one day qualify to hold such rights or that they themselves may eventually fail to deliver the required reach.

The new rules would mean the likes of Sky Sports, BT Sport, Discovery or Amazon could not set up a wide-reaching free-to-air service in order to bid for Crown Jewels events.

They would not prevent a repeat of Discovery buying the pan-European rights to the Olympics but would ensure it would have to continue to allow the BBC or another PSB to show the Games free-to-air.

The Government, which this week confirmed the Women’s World Cup and Women’s European Championship had been added to the Crown Jewels, also announced a review examining whether the scope of the listed-events regime should be extended to include digital rights.

It did so amid concerns that the likes of the Olympic 100 metres final could be shown live on the BBC in the middle of the night but that all streaming and catch-up rights could be sold to a different broadcaster and kept behind a paywall.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “Set against the backdrop of the digital transformation of our viewing habits, today’s plans will revamp decades-old laws to help our public service broadcasters compete in the internet age and usher in a new golden age for British TV and radio.”