Australia's auditor general asked to review $40m Foxtel grant after string of W-League glitches

Greens say taxpayer funding for News Corp should be examined after viewers complain about poor quality broadcasts

The Greens will ask the auditor-general to review Foxtel’s $40m grant for women’s sport after a series of technical glitches marred coverage of the W-League.

The federal government gave another $10m to the Murdoch-controlled Foxtel last year to boost women’s and underrepresented sport, bringing to $40m the total taxpayer funding for the subscription TV service since 2017.

Viewers and sports officials have complained about Fox Sports’ poor production values and audio and video dropouts during W-League matches in January.

“The audio feed dropped out, as did all the game’s graphics, including the scoreboard and the game clock,” Guardian Australia reported.

Coverage of the @WLeague needs to be better. Tonights game is a great example - no replays, no crowd noise, lost audio, poor production quality. The game, the players and the fans deserve it #BRIvMVC

— Kathryn Gill (@KathrynA_12) January 22, 2021

On Friday night, the Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory match was interrupted in the first half when the game feed suddenly crashed and was replaced by 30 seconds of vision of a technical crew member sitting at his desk at home.


— A-League Memes (@TheRealALM) January 29, 2021

Foxtel has blamed the earlier interruptions on faulty equipment and a software glitch, but declined to comment on the Friday incident.

Greens media spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young said taxpayers deserved to know if they got value when the government handed Foxtel the money.

“These repeated stuff-ups with women’s sports broadcast are disrespectful to players and fans,” Hanson-Young told Guardian Australia.

“Fans who have forked out for a pay TV subscription have paid to see their favourite team twice and certainly didn’t sign up to watch a W-league analyst sitting in what looked like his bedroom.

In the middle of a W-league game, very professional thanks @FOXSportsAUS @kayosports 🙄

— Ang V.L 🌴⚽️🌴 (@Evaggelia_VL) January 29, 2021

“Fox Sports should never have been given $40m of taxpayer money to broadcast women’s sport. If they’re going to do a half-arsed job, they should give the money back and it can go to the public broadcasters who should have gotten it in the first place.”

Last week Fox Sports said the glitches were one-off incidents.

“Fox Sports take great pride in our production, however, we have unfortunately had two incidents recent affecting our W-League coverage,” a spokesperson said.

“One involved equipment which was damaged in transit to the game, the other a software glitch. We are confident these are one-off incidents, and we apologise to W-League fans for the impact on their viewing.”

Hanson-Young said there was so little detail about the government’s largesse it appeared Foxtel had set the terms of the funding itself.

The Greens said the government should not be funding sport behind a paywall.

Foxtel has reported to government that Fox Sports broadcast more than 4,888 hours of content covered by the grant, including 1,167 hours live, in 2019.

Coverage included more than 3,050 hours of women’s sport, which is an increase of more than 100% since 2016.

“The hours of coverage is irrelevant to boosting exposure of women’s sport if hardly anyone is watching it because it’s not on free-to-air,” Hanson-Young said. “If sports have been broadcast on the ABC or SBS or free-to-air networks with larger audiences, it seems pretty clear this isn’t a program delivering value for money.

“Not only did Foxtel get $40m of public money, it also gets an extra $35k a pop from taxpayers every time the ABC airs a Matildas’ match. This looks much more like a rort to me.”

Answers to questions on notice revealed the ABC paid Foxtel up to $35,000 for each Matildas match aired by the public broadcaster in 2019-20.

Hey Ang, there was a technical issue with the incoming feed to our provider. We do apologise for any inconvenience.

— Kayo Sports Help (@kayosports_help) January 29, 2021

The coverage has been blighted by the livestream going dark, the audio dropping out and the interruption of a match by a large hexagonal graphic that floated in the middle of the screen for several minutes.

Foxtel declined to comment on the call for a review by the auditor general.

In a separate development, Super Netball has signed a five-year broadcast rights deal which will see all games from the 2022 season onwards available on Foxtel platforms.

The move represents a shift away from free-to-air TV, with the Nine network to finish up its involvement with the league at the end of the upcoming season, starting on 1 May.


Amanda Meade

The GuardianTramp

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