2 Jul 2017

Hawking the haka sparks ad indignation

From Mediawatch, 9:09 am on 2 July 2017

Viewers were startled when Sky Sports slipped in an ad after the haka during the first All Blacks-Lions test last weekend. What does the outcry reveal about what people expect from broadcasters these days?

All Blacks haka

All Blacks haka Photo: Photosport

I watched the opening game of RWC 2003 in a bar in Sydney. There was a heart-stopping moment when towering Wallaby lock David Giffin jumped to gather the kick-off and fell back down on his head.

As soon as he hit the deck unconscious, Channel 7 cut to a beer advert while the nation wondered whether he was alive or dead. 

I nearly fell off my barstool, but the locals didn't blink.

By law, live RWC matches must be screened on free-to-air TV in Australia and broadcasters coughing up for the rights take advantage of any break in play to make the money back. 

Last year, Sky TV chief executive John Fellet told me that was one reason why those who say we should adopt Australia's 'anti-siphoning' law should be careful what they wish for.

So Sky TV must have known it would annoy viewers with a Hyundai ad straight after the haka at Eden Park last weekend.

Within minutes, viewers had clogged up social media with complaints (possibly after waiting for another break in play to fire up their phones).  

The following day, Sky backed down. 

"We hear you, and for the remaining matches of the Lions tour you won't see it again," Sky promised. 

Sky got instant approval from Tony Veitch on Radio Sport and other pundits last Sunday, but were subscribers being softened up for lucrative pre-kick-off advertising in subsequent All Blacks tests?

"As far as I’m aware we don’t have plans for future placements like this but it is possible," a Sky TV spokesperson told Mediawatch.

Rival media companies seized on the story of the anger over the ad. 

"Sky TV vows to shelve post-haka ads for rest of Lions tour after All Blacks fans seethe," said Fairfax Media’s stuff.co.nz. 

When the Herald ran a similar yarn on its website, Sky TV commentator Scotty ‘Sumo’ Stevenson noted the Herald's approach to online Sky clips.

A case of the pot calling the kettle All Black, perhaps.

Last weekend was far from the first time corporate concerns have hacked the haka.  

During the Lions tour, rugby fans in the UK have had the haka coming at them from all angles - literally.

Sky Sports UK’s first fully-virtual reality production, available only to UK subscribers on a downloadable app, is a dramatised documentary called Finding Haka.

Sky UK touted this as “a cinematic journey into the heart of New Zealand to discover the passion, dedication and understanding it takes to perform the famous ritual.”  

This rather alarming  - and distorted  - image is one Sky TV is using to promote its first VR documentary: 'Finding Haka'.

This rather alarming - and distorted - image is one Sky TV is using to promote its first VR documentary: 'Finding Haka'. Photo: screenshot / Sky UK

The film's director, James Hedley, said "the emotion of the haka begged to be explored in VR".

“I hope the film will resonate with not only sports fans but also detached youths - and history fanatics around the world."

VR technology is evidently more of a priority than proofreading at Sky UK. It also begs the question: Will “detached youths” connect to VR headsets more readily than they connect with their own culture?   

In the UK, some fans took to Twitter to tell Sky UK they’re actually a bit over the haka already.

When it comes to exploiting the haka with hi-technology to hype a rugby tour of foreign fields, we were ahead of the game here in New Zealand.

Before the AB’s headed to the UK for the 2015 RWC, sponsor AIG launched the '360 degree haka experience'.

"With the help of virtual reality goggles, regular fans can experience the haka up close and personal, as if they're standing shoulder to shoulder with McCaw and the boys," said AIG.

And to be in to win that experience, you had to log on at stuff.co.nz. Seems there’s no such thing as high moral ground in the modern media when it comes to putting the ever-popular All Blacks in front of eyeballs.   

Advert for Stuff.co.nz and AIG turn the haka into a "world first" virtual reality experience in 2015.

Stuff.co.nz and AIG turn the haka into a "world first" virtual reality experience in 2015. Photo: screenshot

Last weekend, some Sky viewers were mad about the ad simply because they reckoned they weren’t getting what they paid for.

Damien Venuto of the stoppress.co.nz site said people paying for on-demand viewing increasingly expect no ads. 

"Viewers that turn on Netflix, Lightbox or even Sky’s Neon know that their direct debits buy them an ad-free experience. The music streaming giants Pandora and Spotify go a step further by removing the ads only when people start paying," he wrote.

Rather than looking for new slots to sneak in ads, Sky could take a few tips from the American approach, he suggested.  

Special big budget commercial creations are commissioned for screening at halftime of the Superbowl for instance.  

Ads of that scale are a bit beyond brands here in New Zealand, but "there is certainly scope for a bit of creativity to make the halftime break something to actually look forward to,” he said. 

Something not the case with the Hyundai ad last weekend  - unless you really like being hollered at from a high-revving rally car.