A high level debate on what public service media (PSM) can do for sport marked the start of the 17th Eurovision Sports Assembly in Brussels.
Speakers from the worlds of politics, broadcasting and sports came together to grapple with the challenging question of how public service media can continue to play a leading role in sports broadcasting in the face of new technologies and competition from players from outside Europe.
Three months after the controversial decision on the allocation of TV rights for the Olympic Games, the general consensus was that public service coverage can still provide a huge added value to sports federations and citizens alike. However, for it to continue to do so, national broadcasters need to work together to present a common vision for quality sports broadcasting in the 21st century.
Keynote speaker, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics kicked off the debate by outlining the different initiatives on the EU policy agenda with an impact on sports rights – from copyright reform, and setting rules on geo-blocking to the review of the European Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS). A common goal across all these initiatives is to ensure the right balance between adapting to the digital age and ensuring content creators can continue to be properly remunerated.
The Commission commented that, “Broadcasting plays an essential role in the world of sport. It brings sport competitions into people's homes and, increasingly, onto their mobile devices. And broadcasting provides the major source of financing for sport organisations.”
In response, EBU President Jean-Paul Philippot explained that a major “policy ask” on the part of public service broadcasters is to ensure that a strengthened ‘list of major events’ (including sporting events) provision is included as part of any future revision of the AVMS in order to guarantee that these events are universally available to virtually all the population.
As discussions moved on to a more general debate on the changing landscape for sports coverage, several speakers expressed concerns at the cultural and societal consequences of rights for events such as the Olympics being taken over by non-European players. Bogdan Wenta MEP pointed out that sport is responsible for 3.7% of overall European GDP and that public service media was a crucial component of the sporting supply chain, which had to be allowed to operate under fair conditions.
Playing devil’s advocate, former professional footballer turned leading sports lawyer, Thierry Granturco challenged other speakers to explain how exactly PSM offers something different to commercial players. This question sparked a number of clear examples, including:
Sven Lescuyer, Chairman of the EBU Sports Assembly, said: “Sports and sports’ events are part of EBU members’ DNA; they play an essential role for society and social cohesion in particular. European public service media need to continue bringing a specific approach, offering viewers access to the major international sports events as well as the national and grass-roots competitions. Ensuring that EBU members preserve their position in a highly competitive environment is a crucial issue.”
Speakers agreed that these attributes needed to be communicated more clearly when it comes to the allocation of rights for major sporting events in the future, to ensure that decisions are not taken on a purely financial basis and instead look at the wider value of the public service offer.
In this context, International Paralympic Committee President, Sir Philipp Craven called on the EBU to bring “hidden values out into the open” and communicate a “value based vision of sport”.
Overall, the discussions provided ample food for thought and scope for discussion for the remainder of the Eurovision Sports Assembly which will continue until Friday 2 October.
Szabolcs Horvath (Member of Commissioner Navracsics Cabinet, European Commission)
Mr Bogdan Wenta (Member of the European Parliament)
Emmanuel Foulon (Assistant of MEP Marc Tarabella)
Sir Philip Craven (IPC President – Paralympics)
Jean-Paul Philippot (President of the EBU – RTBF)
Sven Lescuyer (Chairman of the EBU Sports Assembly – France Télévisions)
Thierry Granturco (Member of Sport and Citizenship’s Scientific Committee)
Moderator: Gaëtan Vigneron (Sport Journalist RTBF)