SBS programming an insult to football and Freeview fans

Comment by Patrick Avenell

SBS has this morning insulted Australian football fans by showing the same Champions League match on free to air television as worldwide UEFA partner ESPN. And then, just to rub salt into the bleary eyes on fans that woke up at 4:30am to watch Arsenal’s knife-edge clash with Villarreal, the government-funded broadcaster showed the same game again on its HD channel.

All told, three different channels broadcasted Porto v Manchester United this morning – so much for all the variety Freeview is promising.

One of the big promotional pivots of Freeview is that it will provide greater variety of programs, with the free-to-air stations broadcasting more content through its secondary channels. On this morning’s evidence, viewers can expect more disappointment from the five Freeview channels, with scant regard for the viewer shown by Freeview stakeholder SBS.

Even more frustrating for the Australian football fan was SBS’ decision to delay the announcement of which game they would cover. As late as 5pm yesterday, the SBS website’s TV guide still had not been updated with match details.

This decision was made presumably to sting viewers who wanted only to watch the Arsenal game into getting out of bed in the wee hours. Conversely, ESPN announced it would be covering the Porto game live last week.

A spokesperson for SBS tried to dismiss inquiries into this decision, but when pressed for a response, we were told, “SBS normally shows a different match in the second leg from the first as a general rule”.

The spokesperson is referring to these Champions League ties being two-legged matches, with both teams hosting a game before a winner is decided on aggregate score. Fair play that SBS would endeavour to show a game from each of the two clashing matches, but someone clearly flouted this rule when they decided to show both Manchester United v Porto fixtures and neither Arsenal v Villarreal games.

That’s right – this is the second week in a row SBS has shown identical fixtures to ESPN; so much for Freeview’s stated promise of “more channels and more choice”.

SBS has brushed off this criticism of its programming policies, with the spokesperson saying, “What ESPN are screening has no bearing on what SBS screens on free-to-air”. But it should – ESPN are a worldwide broadcasting partner of the Champions League, with the US-based network currently showing matches throughout Asia, Central and South America, Oceania and the United States.

Its coverage, in terms of both matches and supplementary programming, is the most thorough of any network in Australia and as such, it should have the first pick as to what match is shown. SBS should then choose from the remaining matches.

At the very least, it should show a different match on its HD channel – the same match on three different channels is the epitome of “more channels and same choice”.

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