TVNZ cov­er­age a blow for fans

The Southland Times - - SPORT - AN­DREW VOERMAN

OPIN­ION: By the end of the Com­mon­wealth Games, ev­ery­body watch­ing in New Zealand had a TVNZ story.

There was the time those watch­ing Duke were told go on­line to watch Ju­lia Rat­cliffe win gold in the ham­mer throw, only for the event to end up on Duke mo­ments later – in­dica­tive of a sud­den be­hind-the-scenes change.

There were all the times the broad­caster cut from live ac­tion to ads, some­times at in­op­por­tune mo­ments, or had the same event play­ing on two dif­fer­ent chan­nels – at least on one oc­ca­sion, with one slightly be­hind the other.

There was the time last Fri­day night, when they came back from an ad break on TV1, with host Toni Street telling view­ers: ‘‘We’ve just seen Olivia McTag­gart’s fi­nal at­tempt in the pole vault fi­nal’’. The prob­lem was, no­body ex­cept Street had – the cut from ads to the event came as the teenager was crash­ing into the pad af­ter a failed at­tempt.

There were plenty of other com­plaints. You only have to scroll down TVNZ’s Com­mon­wealth Games Face­book page to see that – but if you do, you will also see a so­cial me­dia staff who were com­mit­ted to ad­dress­ing them, not just ac­knowl­edg­ing them and apol­o­gis­ing. Live tele­vi­sion is tricky, no doubt, but these Games were a more frus­trat­ing view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence than they should have been.

In the same light, some of the hits the broad­caster took have been fair, and some of them haven’t. Those who seemed an­noyed by the mere ex­is­tence of ads prob­a­bly need to re­flect a bit, and while some of the dou­ble-ups were frus­trat­ing, es­pe­cially when they in­volved events with no Ki­wis while the sil­ver fern was be­ing worn else­where, the idea be­hind them – show­ing events in full in one place, but also bring­ing them to a wider au­di­ence when time al­lowed – was laud­able.


When TVNZ’s ac­qui­si­tion of the freeto-air rights for next year’s Rugby World Cup was con­firmed on Mon­day morn­ing, chief ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Ken­rick was quick to em­pha­sise that they had learned plenty from the past two weeks, and promised there would be no ads dur­ing game play in any of the seven matches they will show. That that needed to be learned is con­cern­ing, but it’s good to see they have recog­nised they got things wrong.

The Com­mon­wealth Games are among the most com­plex events New Zealand broad­cast­ers have to come to terms with. It might seem odd, but they are more dif­fi­cult than the Olympics, given the su­pe­rior num­bers of New Zealan­ders in­volved, and the in­creased like­li­hood that many of them will go deep into their com­pe­ti­tions. As for the Rugby World Cup, the key dif­fer­ence there is that there’s only ever one rugby match on at a time, so there’s no need for jug­gling. It’s like checkers v chess.


TVNZ’s in­abil­ity to make changes when events dic­tated they should de­fined their cov­er­age. Tele­vi­sion is still a pas­sive medium, by and large, es­pe­cially for older au­di­ences, and the broad­caster’s flag­ship sta­tion could have served as a moth­er­ship – col­lect­ing all the big events, switch­ing be­tween them to catch the big mo­ments, and telling the story of the night, what­ever it ended up be­ing.

Last Sun­day, Mon­day, and Tues­day, bowler Jo Ed­wards, squash player Joelle King, and ham­mer thrower Ju­lia Rat­cliffe each won gold, in turn be­com­ing that story. All were medal hopes, but but not cer­tain­ties, and so didn’t fea­ture in TVNZ 1’s plans.

Ed­wards’ and King’s events were both streamed on­line in full, while Rat­cliffe’s was nowhere to be found un­til very late in the piece, but still in time to catch her fi­nal throw and cel­e­bra­tions. In the lat­ter case, TVNZ had opted to take a feed with all the ath­let­ics events com­bined, which was ‘‘in­di­cated as of­fer­ing us the fullest cov­er­age,’’ they said in a state­ment. When that turned out not to be the case, they ‘‘ur­gently ob­tained an­other feed’’. Lawn bowls and squash were pro­gram­ming de­ci­sions.

Choos­ing what to put on where is a tricky task, and de­ci­sion-mak­ers are sure to an­noy some group – when TVNZ opted to air a ded­i­cated pole vault feed later in the week, when Kiwi Nick South­gate com­peted in the men’s events, there were peo­ple com­plain­ing they weren’t see­ing any of the other ath­let­ics events.

You can’t please ev­ery­body, but in the cases of the three gold medal­lists men­tioned above, and es­pe­cially those of Ed­wards and King, it felt like a missed op­por­tu­nity. On­line stream­ing isn’t ubiq­ui­tous yet, and it would have helped the ath­letes and their sports, both of which don’t get a lot of at­ten­tion, if they had been shown on the flag­ship chan­nel. It would have also helped view­ers find a mo­ment of glory they might have not known about – suc­cess, more than any­thing else, is what peo­ple want to see.

It should be noted that TVNZ did show flex­i­bil­ity on at least one oc­ca­sion – re­sult­ing in the type of ex­pe­ri­ence they could have had on sev­eral other nights.

On the sec­ond Fri­day, TVNZ 1 was show­ing ath­let­ics, where South­gate crashed out of his event early, mean­ing a long wait be­fore dis­cus thrower Siositina Hakeai be­gan her event. Mean­while, the Black Sticks women were locked in a tight bat­tle in their semi­fi­nal with Eng­land, live on one of their other chan­nels.

For 10 min­utes or so, it looked like TVNZ was go­ing to show the rest of the men’s pole vault, where there was no Kiwi in­ter­est, but then they put the hockey on – just in time for the end of the fi­nal quar­ter and the penalty shootout that fol­lowed, with the Black Sticks ad­vanc­ing to the gold medal match. There is no hard data avail­able, but you’d bet that de­ci­sion put one of the defin­ing events of the Games in front of a fair few more eye­balls.

While they got it right in that in­stance, it was an ex­cep­tion rather than the rule.


The ath­letes and teams that com­peted on the Gold Coast will be mov­ing for­ward, re­flect­ing on how they went, and mak­ing ad­just­ments for their next events. TVNZ doesn’t know when it will next be re­spon­si­ble for broad­cast­ing an event of this mag­ni­tude, so it might be a while be­fore any of the lessons it has learnt are put into prac­tice.

It will likely be two years be­fore the rights for the 2022 Com­mon­wealth Games in Birm­ing­ham in Eng­land come up for grabs, and there’s no guar­an­tee they will end up back with TVNZ, or even that TVNZ would want them. They say they achieved their goal of mak­ing this the most-watched free-to-air sport­ing event, with nearly 3 mil­lion TV view­ers, and 2.3 mil­lion live streams, but much of the 2022 event will take place overnight, when au­di­ences will be smaller, and ads hard to sell for top dol­lar.

Might Sky want back in, es­pe­cially af­ter los­ing the 2019 Rugby World Cup? (It has the sum­mer and win­ter Olympics sewn up through 2024, for the record). Could Spark be a player, look­ing to build off next year’s Rugby World Cup , which it will show in full?

It’s hard to know what will hap­pen in a me­dia en­vi­ron­ment that is con­stantly evolv­ing, but af­ter the past fort­night, who­ever ends up with the rights will be on no­tice.


Ju­lia Rat­cliffe won gold in the ham­mer throw, but TVNZ missed most of her event.

Kiwi pole vaulter Olivia McTag­gart fea­tured in one of TVNZ’s Com­mon­wealth Games blun­ders.

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