28 Mar 2018

5 biggest questions if Sky loses Rugby World Cup rights

12:37 pm on 28 March 2018

Bye bye “boomfa!”


Richie McCaw and Dan Carter celebrate in 2015.

Richie McCaw and Dan Carter celebrate in 2015. Photo: AFP

Rugby fans this morning awoke to a dream - the prospect of a free-to-air World Cup.

Sky Television announced it’s not the preferred bidder for next year’s Rugby World Cup. It said negotiations were already underway with the preferred provider.

The Herald is reporting Spark and TVNZ are the leading candidates to air the tournament, which runs from September 20 to November 2. Neither is responding to questions.

Losing the World Cup would be a significant blow for Sky, which prides itself on the breadth and quality of its rugby coverage.

“While the Rugby World Cup is great content and we put forward a strong bid for it, it is an incredibly expensive event that plays once every four years for six weeks," Sky said.

Here are the biggest questions we have:


Don’t panic. If TVNZ were to be a joint rights winner, it could potentially broadcast every game free-to-air, as well as on its on-demand service. Highlights should also be available on mobile devices.

Another scenario for TVNZ would be only key games being broadcast free-to-air, which would increase the incentive for Spark’s cooperation. There’s no way the former could have funded this bid by itself.

If some of the games were to be streamed live solely on Spark, rugby anoraks are likely going to have to cough up a few extra dollars.

A positive for TVNZ is the encouragement the new Government has given towards more free-to-air sport.

NZ First last year campaigned for free access to major sporting events, with party leader Winston Peters bemoaning that 1.2 million people couldn’t afford Sky.

Sport and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson has been more cautious, but agrees a conversation around better access needs to take place.



If Spark and TVNZ were the frontrunners, we can reasonably expect every game to be streamed online.

Having experienced major issues, repeatedly, using Sky Go, should we be worried about online coverage freezing moments before Beauden Barrett attempts a late penalty to win the final?

Spark’s subscription on-demand service, Lightbox, has never been flawless. Spark’s phone network, too.

Tech is never perfect, though you would hope that for an event so monumental as a Rugby World Cup, any online provider would figure out how to stream properly.

Chorus this week announced it would trial 4K broadcasting, which should mean higher quality streaming. This could directly benefit local broadcasters like Spark.


Sky Sport is usually pretty good at not bombarding viewers with advertising during rugby games, however, the 2015 World Cup was different.

How frustrating was it to sit through an ad moments before Dan Carter kicked off?

It’s impossible to say yet whether we’ll get more or less advertising were Spark to stream the tournament.

However, it would be reasonable to expect a decent amount of advertising, considering the tens of millions Spark is likely to be spending.

Viewers won’t mind if the coverage is good, though.


Sky TV is losing viewers. Earlier this year, Australian analyst Morningstar predicted it would lose about 12,000 satellite television customers each year for the next five years.

Just this week, chief executive John Fellet, who had worked for the company for 27 years, stepped down.

John Fellett.

John Fellett. Photo: Photosport

Sky’s two-dimensional online platform Sky Go has been overtaken by other digital and on-demand platforms. Its steep pricing structure, which allows for little customisation in terms of what channels viewers want to subscribe to, is also unpopular.

Sky this week said it would invest in, and develop better apps and on-demand platforms that should eventually supercede satellite television.

It should be noted that the latter stages of Rugby World Cups - the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and the final - are shown on free-to-air television anyway, so the motivation for Sky to spend big is reduced.

Still, losing the Rugby World Cup would be a blow that would surely hasten the company’s push towards newer, fresher platforms.


Bye bye “boomfa!” Bye bye Ian Smith. Hello Keith Quinn?

The legendary broadcaster, who commentated his first game of rugby in 1971, could be in line for a top hosting gig if his employers, TVNZ, are successful.

Other faces we’d be likely to see would be commentator John McBeth and hosts Andrew Saville and Jenny-May Clarkson.

Sky Sport has done a pretty good, if a little slow, job introducing more women into its rugby coverage. We would hope TVNZ and Spark would make a strong commitment to diversity.