8 Apr 2018

TVNZ gets back in the Games

From Mediawatch, 9:09 am on 8 April 2018

TVNZ gave away the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and Sky TV was the only game in town again four years later. Mediawatch asks why TVNZ has decided to go for gold with the Games again this year and if it's a sign of things to come for other live sports - including the Rugby World Cup.

TVNZ is doing the heavy lifting at the Commonwealth Games again, after flagging it the last two times.

TVNZ is doing the heavy lifting at the Commonwealth Games again, after flagging it the last two times. Photo: screenshot / TVNZ Games Extra

In 1974 the state-owned BCNZ came to the party in a big way - launching colour TV for the Games in Christchurch (though in the end only athletics, swimming and boxing were broadcast in colour).


In 2008, TVNZ secured the TV broadcast rights to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.


The state-owned broadcaster said it had screened every Commonwealth Games since TV itself began in New Zealand. Chief executive Rick Ellis said TVNZ was extending a proud record and its coverage would be “inspirational”.  


But in mid 2009, those bold plans were binned because TVNZ said it couldn’t afford to take an estimated $5m loss.


TVNZ offloaded the rights to pay-TV operator Sky, which had already won the TV rights for the next winter and summer Olympics.  


Newspapers berated TVNZ for that, and broadcasting minister Jonathan Coleman said the public could no longer expect major sporting events to be provided live on TV for free.  


Four years later, people seemed to have got that message. There wasn’t as much fuss when the 2014 Glasgow Games ended up on Sky too.

Mike Hosking runs down the Commonwealth Games on TVNZ in 2017.

Mike Hosking runs down the Commonwealth Games on TVNZ in 2017. Photo: screenshot / TVNZ

In March 2017, TVNZ’s Mike Hosking said on Seven Sharp the Games were an anachronism that should be canned after one last hurrah on the Gold Coast. Disappointing news for his bosses who had decided to get back in the game a year before.

Seven Sharp co-host Toni Street stuck up for the Games at the time and she is now the studio host for the Gold Coast coverage.

"Now that they've got these rights back, they want to go really big. Never before have we been in such a digital, multi-platform era where people don't just want to watch on TV. They also want to watch on their online devices as well,” Toni Street said to Stuff this week, bigging up TVNZ's multi-channel plans.

The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games are now on TVNZ 1, TVNZ’s Duke channel and a special dedicated pop-up TVNZ channel available on Sky and Freeview and on-demand: TVNZ Games Extra. There's also another channel available online-only at TVNZ OnDemand.

All that is great for sports fans without Sky, and a far cry from 2009 when TVNZ killed off its Freeview Sports Extra channel purely to save the costs of transmitting it.

But TVNZ these days still operates as a fully commercial beast expected to turn a profit - and that was the reason it walked away from the last two Games.

So what’s the difference this time?


No captionTVNZ's director of content Cate Slater

Photo: supplied / TVNZ

"Circumstances have changed a bit now," said TVNZ’s director of content Cate Slater, who is on the Gold Coast keeping an eye on it all.


"Delhi and Glasgow came after the GFC. Live sport is more important these days as viewing audiences fragment.


"Also we find sports bodies are mandating a free-to-air component of their coverage. They realise how important reach is to connect people to their sport and give the sponsors exposure," she told Mediawatch.


Cate Slater won't say if the Games will make a profit or break even. 


"You don't expect to make a lot of money to make it worth doing," she said.


TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick has talked up the commitment to the Games in a big way.


"The Commonwealth Games have a special place in New Zealand’s hearts. TVNZ’s focus is all about sharing the moments that matter to New Zealanders and we’re committed to ensuring this event is a shared national viewing experience,” he said.


So will they be as committed for Birmingham (UK) in 2022, when most of the action takes place at night or in the morning? 


"The time difference on The Gold Coast is attractive. Cost is always an issue. We will look at Commonwealth Games anywhere in the world now we have the ability to show them on demand and at different times," said Cate Slater.  

In spite of the extra digital channels now available to screen the live action, TVNZ 1 is heavily disrupted.

The late news Tonight and Midday bulletin as well as weekend politics shows Q+A and Marae have all been dropped for the duration of the games. Coronations Street has been rescheduled. 

New Zealand Herald media writer John Drinnan accused TVNZ of "a lack of respect for news". 

TVNZ has also had gripes about the volume of ads interrupting the action, described by news outlets as "a string" and "an avalanche" of complaints. 

Cate Slater said that was the trade-off for free-to-air access.

"We have made the games the focus and that means committing ourselves to this. It happens in Australia, the UK and other places that the main channel will be used when a sports event is on," she said.  

Last week it emerged that Sky is not the preferred bidder for the live TV rights for the next Rugby World Cup. Media reports say it's a joint venture between Sky and TVNZ in the box seat. 

Is TVNZ back in the game of bidding high for big sports events?

Cate Slater would not be drawn on plans for the World Cup. 

"We are definitely keen to share the moments that matter for New Zealanders and live sport is a big part of that," she told Mediawatch