12 Jul 2019

The way we watch sport is changing

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 12 July 2019
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw and Dan Carter hold the 2015 trophy aloft.

All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw and Dan Carter hold the 2015 trophy aloft. Photo: Photosport

The Rugby World Cup, this year being played in Japan, is a little over two months away.

In 2015, more than a million New Zealanders got up at 5am to watch New Zealand beat Australia in the final. It was broadcast on both Sky TV and its free to air channel Prime, live.

But this year Sky's been beaten out for the rights by a teleco – Spark. Of course Spark doesn’t own a TV channel. It wants you to download an app to access the games, and you’ll have to figure out how to get that on to your big screen TV. Or, you can go to the pub instead.

Spark has YouTube ads explaining how to access the games, but the comments beneath are not inspiring. Formula 1 watchers are the most aggrieved – calling the technology “totally useless”, and saying the live coverage keeps dropping out.

Spark’s head of sport, Jeff Latch, promises those teething problems will be sorted out ahead of the Rugby World Cup, and urges users to get in early.

Newsroom.co.nz’s co-editor and media writer, Mark Jennings, says Spark is developing a whole new business here.

“Spark Sport is aimed at taking on Sky TV, producing content and delivering it in a really different form,” he says.

Mark Jennings – Newsroom.co.nz co-editor.

Mark Jennings – Newsroom.co.nz co-editor. Photo: MediaWorks

Gone is the need for aerials or dishes on the roof, and Sky boxes. “It can get around all this infrastructure and deliver it over the internet,” he says, “and therefore cut out a lot of cost – and also, make a considerable amount of money out of it.”

But Jennings doesn’t think that money will roll in straight away.

“In terms of the Rugby World Cup, Spark is not going to make any money in my view. It’s probably going to lose money.

“They’ve built up a team of 60 people to work on this – they’ve had to build really major platforms …. their costs have been considerable around building out their core infrastructure, they’ve improved about 100 mobile sites. So there’s significant cost for Spark in this. The prize is not the Rugby World Cup – the prize is down the track if they’re able to get the Super Rugby, if they’re able to get the international cricket. And they’ll lock in longer term subscriptions, and then they’ll make the money. But of course Spark will have to compete at every turn with Sky TV on this.

“So it is risky. But there’s clearly a level of confidence within Spark that they can do it; and they’ve got a big enough chequebook, to do it.”

The other issue Jennings sees is Spark’s generous deal with TVNZ – 12 matches are available free to air on TVNZ – five of them live, and seven with one hour’s delay.

“If you’ve got an old TV, or you’re not technically literate, then you have a problem (getting coverage). A lot of people might decide, ‘well I’m happy with an hour’s delay … I’m just going to not listen to any social media, and I’ll watch it in an hour’s time.”

Jennings says those delayed rights may well mean Spark misses out on a big chunk of people signing up.

We’ll see them at the pub.

Photo: RNZ