RWC RIGHTS

New Zealand Marketing - - 20 Hot List 2018 -

Sky has long been one of the coun­try’s most suc­cess­ful and prof­itable me­dia com­pa­nies and a lot of that has stemmed from its hold on sports rights – and par­tic­u­larly rugby. But that dom­i­nance is start­ing to be tested, as tel­cos and tech plat­forms vie for sports broad­cast rights. And in what is seen by many as a shot across the bow of Sky and a sign of things to come, Spark and TVNZ snatched the 2019 Rugby World Cup rights away.

Some games will to be screened on free-to-air, and all games streamed live via an app for any­one will­ing to fork out an es­ti­mated $100. And while stream­ing con­tent has be­come the norm for many New Zealan­ders, live sports stream­ing in New Zealand has had a che­quered his­tory, with the likes of Pre­mier League Pass strug­gling to make head­way with foot­ball and Sky’s plat­form Skygo reg­u­larly fail­ing dur­ing peak times (it has re­cently been up­dated to in­clude on-de­mand TV and given an over­haul to en­sure it can han­dle the jan­dal when it comes to live sports). Over­seas, live stream­ing of sports is com­mon, with leagues like NFL, NBA and NFL of­fer­ing games di­rect to con­sumers for a fee (typ­i­cally out­side of the US mar­ket where broad­cast­ers still hold the rights). And the im­prov­ing tech­nol­ogy and the wide­spread adop­tion of fi­bre has given Spark the con­fi­dence to de­liver a qual­ity view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for this tour­na­ment, as well as the 2021 Women's World Cup, the 2018 World Cup Sevens and 2018 and '19 World Rugby U20 Cham­pi­onships that were part of the deal with World Rugby. The pres­sure will cer­tainly be on Spark to make sure the tech all works smoothly given New Zealand’s en­dur­ing pas­sion for rugby – or, more specif­i­cally, the All Blacks – and, as its re­cent is­sues af­ter a Light­box up­grade show, that’s not al­ways guar­an­teed. No-one has con­firmed the amount in­volved in the deal, but Sky pulled out of the ne­go­ti­a­tions and said Spark “paid a lot of money”. But it’s on strat­egy for Spark and is the lat­est move in its ef­forts to be­come more than just a se­ries of ‘dump pipes’. It has al­ready in­vested heav­ily in its own stream­ing ser­vice Light­box and has estab­lished a num­ber of con­tent deals with big tech plat­forms like Net­flix and Spo­tify, largely as a mar­ket­ing ex­er­cise to in­cen­tivise broad­band and mo­bile up­take. Sky’s re­tir­ing CEO John Fel­let has often said that it’s easy to buy con­tent, but it’s very dif­fi­cult to make money out of it. Spark’s model is dif­fer­ent than Sky’s, how­ever. While it will ob­vi­ously be get­ting rev­enue from those pay­ing to watch the tour­na­ment, it will also pre­sum­ably be us­ing ac­cess to it as a car­rot to at­tract new cus­tomers. TVNZ, which has fo­cused more heav­ily on free-to-air sports rights in re­cent years with the likes of Amer­ica’s Cup and The Com­mon­wealth Games on TVNZ 1 and a range of US sports on Duke, will screen seven matches live – in­clud­ing the open­ing match and the fi­nal – and it will also air a num­ber of de­layed games. While the broad­cast­ers and de­liv­ery sys­tem are dif­fer­ent, it’s sim­i­lar to 2015, when all games were screened on paid-for Sky and some live games, de­layed games and high­lights pack­ages screened on its free-to-air chan­nel Prime. TVNZ faced some crit­i­cism for the ads that ran dur­ing the Com­mon­wealth Games re­cently, so it has pre-empted con­cerns about that and said ads won’t run dur­ing live game time. Some ex­ist­ing Sky cus­tomers aren’t keen on the ad­di­tional cost they’ll have to foot and those in the ru­ral re­gions with lim­ited ac­cess to speedy in­ter­net – or the tech­no­log­i­cally in­com­pe­tent – feel they might miss out. For Sky, this isn’t a fa­tal blow, but it’s cer­tainly a sig­nif­i­cant flesh wound. And the fight seems to be get­ting blood­ier, with Ama­zon, which just re­leased an in-depth doc­u­men­tary about the All Blacks, sniff­ing around global sports rights. Sky con­tends there is al­ways plenty of in­ter­est in these rights and this is just one tour­na­ment over three weeks that it has lost (plus, of course, the other tour­na­ments across dif­fer­ent years). For it, the im­por­tant thing is that it still has on­go­ing rights to screen Su­per Rugby games and other test matches. The cur­rent SANZAR deal comes to an end in 2020 and ne­go­ti­a­tions for the next five year round are set to start soon, which is ap­par­ently ear­lier than nor­mal to al­low new bid­ders to get their house in or­der. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see who’s will­ing to pay more for them – and what that means for Sky’s golden goose, NZ Rugby’s cof­fers and the over­all view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Wel­come to the fu­ture of sport.

Ama­zon Prime John Fel­let de­part­ing Sky The Spinoff TV RNZ+ Cui­sine’s own­er­ship mov­ing Stuff sell­ing mast­heads Thinktv Nom­i­nees:

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