Opinion: Spark sells New Zealand a lemon

3:57 pm on 24 September 2019

Opinion - I watched the All Blacks play South Africa the other day.

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A screenshot of what some New Zealand Rugby World Cup fans experienced watching the All Blacks match on Saturday. Photo: RNZ / Martin Gibson

I'd taped the delayed telecast, on TVNZ. By the time I sat down to watch the match, it was 24 hours since it had been played.

Twenty four hours in which Spark had successfully alienated great swathes of the viewing public.

This isn't about technology. It's not a referendum on embracing the future.

This is about a company who lectured people long and loud about what they needed to do to watch this year's Rugby World Cup.

A company that had people in the print media write glowing tributes about the quality of their upcoming coverage and the phenomenal cast of characters who were going to bring it to us.

A company who actually had no idea if they could deliver what they said they would. A company who'd already had teething problems broadcasting minor events such as motor racing and football.

A company who blamed that on weather or on us. Who told us we had the wrong television, the wrong internet package, lived on the wrong street in the wrong town, were lazy and ignorant and should've tested things out sooner.

A company who claimed they were let down by their own technology partner. A company who continue to duck blame at every turn.

But, hey, who am I to talk? I haven't been bold - or gullible - enough to embrace the future. The future, I tell you!

Lord help me the next time someone says streaming is the future. The future? It's been here for years.

Tricky thing, the future. It can be hard to predict. Just not in this instance.

Spark's coverage was never going to stand up to scrutiny. The system was always going to have problems and people, having paid for the privilege, were always going to voice their disappointment.

It's why media outlets rostered on almost as many staff to monitor the coverage, as they did the All Blacks vs Springboks game itself.

That's not being wise after the event. That's knowing a lemon when you see one.

The reaction has been fascinating, though.

It's not quite the 1981 Springboks' tour, but there does appear a real ideological divide between those who support the idea of streaming - and are therefore open-minded and intelligent and optimistic - and those backward, complacent old gits who prefer the status quo.

Look, it doesn't matter if it's cars, shampoo or chicken burgers. Every product is new and improved; they all offer a glimpse towards a bright and exciting future.

Ofa Tu'ungafasi (with the ball) during the All Blacks vs South Africa match on Saturday.

Spark was forced to allow TVNZ's Duke channel to play the second half of the All Blacks' match live because of their issues. Photo: Kaori Matsumoto / www.photosport.nz

Spark's Rugby World Cup tournament pass is just another. No-one's making you buy it.

Me? I can do without seeing Japan play Russia or Wales meet Georgia. But I do have a professional obligation to watch All Blacks games and, thankfully, a mechanism remains in place that enables me to do that for free.

Sure I have to watch at - wait for it - some time in the future, but at least that affords me the opportunity to fast forward past all the talking heads and all the wasted minutes when the ball's not actually in play.

Again technology isn't the issue here. The problem is that people were sold a product that didn't do what it said on the tin.

Saying so, if you were one of the aggrieved parties, doesn't make you a stick in the mud.

The paying public are entitled to feel dissatisfied with Spark's service. Just as they're entitled to feel disgust at the arrogance of some of the responses.

Some people have praised the Spark hierarchy for the way they've tried to engage with fans and be available to the media.

The reality is these people, who all earn a small fortune, are in crisis mode. They and their highly-paid PR folks are merely trying to put out a fire of their own making.

Products are only as good as the consumers' confidence in them. People desperately wanted the tournament pass to work, partly because of how much emotion they have invested in the All Blacks. The fact it didn't has done irreparable damage to Spark's reputation.

Part of the appeal of the All Blacks, at least to New Zealanders, is their relative modesty. Fans and pundits overseas often label the team arrogant but to our sensibilities they seem pretty humble.

Players and coaches invariably talk opponents up, rather than themselves. They're modest about their achievements, despite being the best team in the world.

They'd prefer to under-deliver in terms of hype and over-deliver with their actions.

Spark have done the exact opposite. They promised the world. A revolution was at hand they said, change was on its way. The future of sports broadcasting could be seen for just $79.99. Or $89.99, as the price has now blown out to.

It's a kind offer, but no. I'll stick to the free, delayed stuff on terrestrial TV.

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