September 23, 2021

BBC settles for highlights as Amazon Prime gains from exclusive rights

Ministers urged Amazon Prime to make the US Open tennis final with Emma Raducanu free…

Ministers urged Amazon Prime to make the US Open tennis final with Emma Raducanu free to view because it is a “national sporting moment” that should be available to all.

Officials are in talks with the streaming service about taking down its paywall so that those who currently are not subscribers to the £79 a-year platform can see the match, which begins at 9pm tonight.

The BBC has cut a deal with Amazon, which owns live rights to the US Open, to air a highlights progamme on Sunday afternoon.

However Oliver Dowden, culture secretary, believes that it would be a “great gesture” for Amazon to suspend its paywall so that the event can be watched by the largest possible audience.

Amazon previously took down its paywall to allow Premier League football to be shown for free during the pandemic. Fans are also able to take out a free 30-day Prime trial, which allows them to watch the final for nothing.

Although the first British woman to reach a major singles final in 44 years has swiftly become a national event, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said the final did not qualify as a “crown jewel” sporting event, which must be made available free-to-air to all viewers.

The US Open is not currently a “group A” listed event, for which live coverage must be offered, or a “group B” event, for which highlights must be offered.

A DCMS spokesman said: “Amazon is currently the UK TV rights owner of the US Open, so questions about negotiations for coverage or highlight packages are a matter for it and other broadcasters.

“The Government believes the current listed events regime, as set out in the Broadcasting Act, works well and strikes an appropriate balance between retaining free-to-air sports events for the public while allowing rights holders to negotiate agreements in the best interests of their sport.”

More than 53 per cent of British households now have access to Amazon Prime, which is snapping up customers desperate to see top-level sport. A combination of live football, rugby and tennis has helped Prime add two million subscriptions in the past year.

The US Open has seen its UK customer base rise to around 12 million. Fans have been tempted to take out a free 30-day trial, which allows them to watch the final for nothing.

Viewers face a patriotic clash on Saturday night. The Last Night of the Proms will be reaching a climax on BBC One from 9pm – when Raducanu takes to the court at Flushing Meadows.

Live commentary of the final will be available on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Sounds on Saturday evening. BBC Sport online will provide live text commentary “so fans can follow every minute of the action.”

5 Live will also have exclusive coverage of the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to the Premier League on Saturday when Manchester United take on Newcastle United at 3pm.

Heidi Dawson, controller of BBC Radio 5 Live, said: “As if we weren’t excited enough about Ronaldo making his return to English football, we now have Emma Raducanu making history in the US Open. I’m really pleased sports fans in the UK will be able to get live subscription-free coverage from the BBC of these two huge events.”  

On Friday, broadcast regulator Ofcom confirmed that golf’s Ryder Cup, which takes place in the US this month, remains a “listed event”. Sky Sports will provide exclusive live coverage but the BBC will broadcast television highlights and live radio coverage.