In May last year, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed that he would ban gambling advertising on television during live sporting events taking place before 8.30pm. Mr Turnbull commented at the time that parents around Australia would be relieved by this intervention. The traditionally Australian experience of families gathering around the TV to watch major sports events could now happen without children being subjected to gambling ads.
Ten months later and following a period of consultation, we now have the details of how and when the ban will come into effect.
Last Friday, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) announced that from 30 March 2018, gambling advertisements will be banned during the broadcast of live sports between 5.00am and 8.30pm on commercial free to air TV, commercial radio and pay TV services (other than certain ‘low audience share’ channels). The relevant rules are contained in revised industry codes which were registered by ACMA after it was satisfied that they delivered the additional protection required for child audiences.
Prior to 30 March 2018, an unlimited number of gambling ads could appear before and after play and during scheduled and unscheduled breaks in live sports events (whatever the time of day). Scheduled breaks are pre-determined stoppages such as half-time in any of the football codes, lunch and tea breaks in cricket, and breaks between matches during a tennis tournament. Unscheduled breaks are breaks which result from uncontrollable events e.g. a rain delay in cricket.
Scheduled breaks in particular have provided ample opportunity for betting operators to advertise during sports broadcasts. In recent years, they have taken this opportunity to become one of the major purchasers of broadcast sponsorship and advertising slots around live sports events, with the result that sports fans in Australia have become accustomed to a significant volume of gambling advertising. This will all change from 30 March 2018 as the vast majority of sports events take place during the restricted window of 5.00am to 8.30pm. The ban applies from five minutes before the scheduled start of play, through until five minutes after the end of play.
As with the gambling rules under the old industry codes, there is an exemption for horse racing, greyhounds and harness racing events. Otherwise, there are only limited and very specific exceptions. For example, the rules do not apply to overseas sports events (provided that certain conditions are met) or to ‘incidental’ gambling advertising which appears on a broadcast such as branding on players’ jerseys or on LED signage around the pitch.
During the consultation period, there had been requests for a limited exception for broadcasts of long-form live sporting events such as Test cricket, tennis, golf and multi-sport events (e.g. the Olympics), similar to the limited exception to the restriction on the promotion of odds which existed under previous industry codes. Ultimately, the only exception that was granted was for ‘non-related programs’ that are broadcast in extended breaks during long-form sporting events. This is more limited than what the owners of these events would have hoped for. Programming shown during extended breaks in a long-form live sporting event will almost always involve commentary, analysis or highlights of the event and therefore fall outside the exception for ‘non-related programs’.
The broadcasters and the sports with valuable broadcast deals will be the most concerned by the ban. The broadcasters will be concerned about a possible reduction in their advertising revenue around live sports events as a result of one of the most significant purchasers being unable to bid, and the sports will be concerned that this in turn reduces the value of their broadcast rights.
For now at least, the betting operators will be able to divert their advertising spend to other platforms showing live sport events, including online, where content service providers are not currently regulated by ACMA. However, this may not remain the case for long. Proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 are currently before Parliament and, if enacted, will enable ACMA to extend the gambling ban to online advertising. ACMA has indicated it will consult on these new rules when the new legislation is passed.