Spark could shake up pay TV - but it needs to get sports streaming right

by Peter Griffin / 16 April, 2018

Spark has its eyes on the prize - breaking in to the pay TV sports market. It just has to get it right, that's all. Photo / Getty Images

There’s always been one half decent option if you really wanted to watch the rugby but didn’t feel like lining Sky TV’s pocket – head to your local pub.

But will that still be an option for rugby fans during next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, with the news confirmed that Spark and TVNZ were the group that outbid Sky for the rights to screen the tournament?

Will broadband be good enough in the regions where the ultra-fast broadband hasn’t yet reached to offer a reliable high-definition stream of the games in heartland New Zealand?

The win for Spark and TVNZ throws up a host of questions about just how the two will deliver the service. For the seven games guaranteed to be shown free-to-air, that’s not complicated – TVNZ will show them on one of its channels as it has with the Commonwealth Games and we’ll be able to watch them via Freeview satellite and terrestrial TV services – and ironically, maybe even on Channel 1 and Duke on Sky’s own platform.

But Spark says it will charge around $100 for a subscription to view all 48 games, via an online streaming service that won’t be its existing Lightbox online TV app, but likely something similar to Sky’s Fanpass service. There’ll also be the option to buy one-off games, a great service Sky used to offer on Fanpass but replaced last year with a less flexible monthly subscription.

Offering a Fanpass-type service in itself shouldn’t be too complicated for Spark to deliver – it already has the Lightbox app on our screens. But the back-end nuts and bolts of streaming live sport is more complex, something Sky took a while to master with plenty of game time glitches along the way still a painful memory for many sports fans.

Spark will need to make some arrangement to allow the premium games to be shown in pubs and clubs around the country, as Sky currently does with its satellite service. The alternative doesn’t bare thinking about – empty pubs and a dead atmosphere as people stay at home. At least the lure of free Sky drags people out of their living rooms on a Saturday night.

The service will also need to be offered over the top – so any subscriber, not just a Spark customer, can stream them. Again, that’s what Sky does with Fanpass.

The copper line broadband network will face a big test. You typically need at least a 5Mbps (megabits per second) download connection speed to reliably stream high-definition video. On paper, many of Spark’s own ADSL connections are up to it, but in reality in rural areas and with extra load on the network, it could be buffering mayhem. Obviously, fibre subscribers will fine.

Spark will likely look to its 4G mobile network to take some of the strain, perhaps zero-rating streams of the games for its paying subscribers watching on tablets and smartphones.

Ultimately it’s a big risk for Spark and its partner TVNZ. It will be unforgivable if they screw up delivering coverage of such an important sporting event.

But if they can get this right, it changes the market dynamic in pay TV here. Everyone knows sport is the jewel in Sky’s crown. If Spark can make the Rugby World Cup work and bundle it cleverly with its mobile and broadband packages, like it has done with Lightbox and Spotify, it will definitely be game on.



The Law Society's #MeToo (But Not Just Yet) moment
90144 2018-04-26 14:40:52Z Social issues

The Law Society's #MeToo (But Not Just Yet) moment…

by The Listener

The Law Society is investigating a female lawyer, but silent about how it’s dealing with sexual misconduct matters.

Read more
New $30b plan to tackle Auckland transport woes unveiled
90118 2018-04-26 12:24:54Z Economy

New $30b plan to tackle Auckland transport woes un…

by RNZ

Nearly $30 billion will be spent on Auckland transport in the next 10 years, partly funded by a fuel tax, private finance and tolls.

Read more
The dark possible motive of the Toronto van attacker
90096 2018-04-26 09:28:54Z World

The dark possible motive of the Toronto van attack…

by Michael Arntfield

Incel - short for involuntary celibacy - has now claimed the suspect in the Toronto van attack, Alek Minassian, as its own.

Read more
Auckland braces for increasing numbers of homeless over winter
90092 2018-04-26 08:47:12Z Social issues

Auckland braces for increasing numbers of homeless…

by Eva Corlett

Groups working with homeless people are bracing themselves for another gruelling few months as winter sets in.

Read more
Fall from grace: Why some mistakes end celebrities' careers when others don't
89980 2018-04-26 00:00:00Z Social issues

Fall from grace: Why some mistakes end celebrities…

by Paul Thomas

In a world a-twitter, small infractions attract hysterical reactions, and abject confession is the only currency with which redemption can be bought.

Read more
Investing after the Global Financial Crisis
90010 2018-04-26 00:00:00Z Investment

Investing after the Global Financial Crisis

by Noted

Fixed interest markets have changed - managers can now pick from a wider range of investments, which is good news for the everyday investor.

Read more
The 3 types of cheating in sport
90100 2018-04-26 00:00:00Z Sport

The 3 types of cheating in sport

by Paul Thomas

When it comes to cheating, there are the rules – and then there are the alternative rules.

Read more
Win a double pass to An Evening with Hillary Rodham Clinton in Auckland
90019 2018-04-26 00:00:00Z Win

Win a double pass to An Evening with Hillary Rodha…

by Noted

An illuminating insight into Secretary Clinton's experience as a woman in politics, you could be seeing her live at Auckland's Spark Arena on May 7.

Read more