11 Oct 2019

Unhappy Spark Sport customers horrified it now has cricket rights

6:40 am on 11 October 2019

A group of Spark Sport customers already unhappy with its Rugby World Cup coverage is horrified the company has been given the rights for cricket games played at home.

Interference seen on one Spark Sport user's screen during the Argentina v Tonga match.

Some Spark Sport viewers complained about the Rugby World Cup coverage pixelating. Photo: RNZ

Spark Sport has beaten Sky TV to the rights of broadcasting the Black Caps and White Ferns matches played in New Zealand for six years from April.

Cricket fans will still be able to watch all international matches on Sky, but for any Black Caps and White Ferns matches on home turf, they will have to pay a subscription to Spark Sport.

Some of the matches will also be broadcast free to air on TVNZ, similar to the Rugby World Cup coverage.

The streaming service has had its problems, with viewers complaining about the game cutting out, pixelating and in some cases broadcasting multiple commentaries at the same time.

Tracy, who was the spokesperson for the group The People versus Spark Sport, could not believe the company had now managed to get the cricket rights.

"It's really, really hard ... to hear that. To know the cricket rights have gone to the same company who treat their customers like the scum of the earth - it's absolutely horrible," she said.

Tracy is leading a class action against Spark Sport which she said failed to deliver on the World Cup.

She questioned whether the cricket would be any different.

"They weren't ready, and as everyone has been able to see, they weren't ready on opening weekend," she said.

"They admitted they were at fault for the streaming and as a result we've had customers who continue to have streaming issues."

Sky TV's share prices dropped to record lows following the announcement but Spark Sport's share prices also fell.

Paul Spain, who presents the New Zealand Tech Podcast, said there may be some investors who think the company is taking a gamble on streaming sport.

"It is so expensive to keep and maintain sports rights and to acquire them in the first place and there is no guarantee that it will be a profitable business for Spark," he said.

Craig Young from the Telecommunications Users Association said Spark Sport had a lot of work to do to get it right.

"We're now talking about a sport that can last for up to eight hours a day against a rugby game which lasts for two [to] two and a half hours. That's going to require a reliable connection for that length of time," he said.

"But also what about your data caps? A lot of rural communities live with data caps ... so that's going to be a concern as well. Let's not forget test cricket which takes five days, so you've got five days of eight hours of high quality streaming that you're going to need a reliable connection [for and] also big data plans."

Spark Sport said it was making a number of improvements to its platform over the next 12 months to ensure it will be ready for the next cricket season.

It is also defending its coverage of the Rugby World Cup.

"Some customers have had persistent issues with their streaming experience. While this is a small percentage, it doesn't diminish the frustrating experience that these customers have had. In the last week we've made efforts to help these customers by supplying an alternative device free of charge or a free in-home visit where we believe this will help," it said.

Spark Sport said the Rural Connectivity Working Group it was a part of has a plan to cover the majority of rural homes and businesses with wireless broadband by 2022.

The company said it was very comfortable with the price it is paying for the cricket rights and it was not material in the context of the overall scale of Spark's business.

Sky TV is declining interviews - in a statement it said while it would have liked to keep the local cricket rights, it wished New Zealand Cricket well in its new direction.

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