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Scotland’s World Cup qualifier will be free to air – if the men’s team beats Ukraine

Scotland celebrate defeating Serbia in the Euro 2020 play-off final. Credit: REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Scotland’s World Cup qualifier will be free to air – if the men’s team beats Ukraine

The news came at a session of the Scottish Affairs Committee

Sky executives have told MPs that they will make Scotland’s World Cup play-off final free-to-air – if Steve Clarke’s team can defeat Ukraine. 

The delayed semi-final play-off was discussed at the Scottish Affairs Committee this afternoon. Ali Law, director of policy at Sky, said a victory would make the next match a “moment of national importance” that would be broadcast for free to all. 

The match against Ukraine was delayed as a consequence of the Russian invasion. A win for Scotland would see the team play either Austria or Wales. 

Law told MPs: “We have a responsibility to the Sky Sports subscribers that pay their money and subscribe to not erode the exclusivity of that significantly. 

“Nevertheless, we’ve shown on a number of occasions now that if you reach that moment of decisive national importance we make games available on a much wider basis and we’re happy to do it again.” 

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross MP said the semi-final “was quite a big deal” for Scottish fans and should come under the same criteria. However, Law said: “Any sporting event that a huge number of people have an interest in can fit that description. But if you look at the examples that we that we’ve used previously, it has always been those one-offs. 

“It has to be a do or die moment. The same thing will be the case should Scotland get to the World Cup qualifying final.” 

The cross-party committee is holding an inquiry into public broadcasting in Scotland. 

Law told MPs that Sky “over-indexes” on its spending in Scotland, where 12 per cent of the hours it commissioned in 2021 were made in Scotland. 

Upcoming productions include Lockerbie, based on the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the search for justice by Dr Jim Swire and his wife Jane, whose daughter Flora was killed in the atrocity. 

Scotland makes up nine per cent of the overall UK audience for Sky News , MPs heard, suggesting the country is “well served” by that channel’s output. 

It is the job of news correspondents like Kay Burley to “understand the nuances and the differences” of politics and systems between different nations and regions of the UK, Jonathan Levy of Sky News said under questioning from Conservative MP John Lamont. 

That channel has a “UK-wide focus and international focus”, MPs were told, and while a franchise model was proposed by Levy 18 months ago in response to an Ofcom review, he said that debate has now “moved on” and the current provision is “working”. 

When asked whether “content which is not available free to air can be described as public service broadcasting”, Law said: “I think it can. I think public service broadcasting always has that sort of foundation of universal availability, but the vast majority of UK households do pay for content in one form or another, be it with us, established pay-TV operators like Virgin or some of the streamers. 

“The availability element of it matters a lot less than you might think it might have done previously.” 

On Scottish football, Law said Sky is a “conscientious holder of these broadcaster rights”.

He said: “When it comes to decisive moments of national importance, like the Scotland-Serbia game in March 2020 when Scotland were a game away from participation a major championship for the first time in 22 years, we didn't make that available free to fire our own channel. 

“It was phenomenally successful and it got 63 per cent of the viewing audience in Scotland that night, round about 1.5m people. We've had discussions with STV and there's a little bit more detail to work out but we're in a position to say that we would adopt the same approach, so should Scotland get to the World Cup qualifying final which now has obviously been rearranged, given the circumstances, but should they get past the semi-final and into the final we would partner with STV to air that on a free-to-air basis.” 

Later, the panel heard that 60 per cent of Scottish households have subscription streaming services with companies including Netflix, Amazon and Disney+. The BBC's iPlayer streaming service is in the same percentage of homes.

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