A surfeit of sports-viewing choices

New Zealand rugby fans will soon have to make some decisions about how they watch their favourite game.

The All Blacks begin the defence of the Bledisloe Cup tonight in Australia and most of the money is on a convincing All Blacks win.

The Rugby Championship runs tonight until October 7 when the final game is between Australia and Argentina, following the match in South Africa between the Springboks and the All Blacks.

Super Rugby started in summer and the championship games end in summer, a long season for both players and supporters alike.

But wait, there is more. The All Blacks play England, Ireland and Italy in November.

Presumably, for some of the country’s top players, there will be a rest before the resumption of their Super Rugby duties.

Rugby matches other than the World Cup will be available on Sky Network Television, a company finding itself under more pressure from competitors at the start of each new sporting season.

Telecommunications company Spark announced this week it had secured the exclusive broadcasting rights for English Premier League for three years. The deal adds to Spark’s growing sports portfolio, which includes next year’s Rugby World Cup, in Japan, and the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2021. Australia and New Zealand are bidders for the rights to hold the cup matches.

Spark will launch a sports streaming service early next year. The Premier League and other Spark sports acquisitions will be part of a streaming service which will be different from Sky’s Fan Pass.

There will be some free content on the new streaming service and other content viewers will have to pay to watch.

The service will be accessible to customers of all New Zealand broadband and mobile providers, not just Spark.

There are some unknowns for New Zealanders when it comes to Spark’s new streaming service. Ease of access is of course a major area of concern for people not used to watching sport on anything but their television, simply turning it on, putting it on the correct channel and sitting back for the match. Some fans may find the choices difficult to understand.

Earlier this year, football-mad Australians were left angry after the streaming service of the country’s second-largest telecommunications company, Optus, was plagued by technical glitches. In the end, the remainder of the Football World Cup games were screened live on free-to-air TV after a deal was reached.

Spark will get a trial run before the Rugby World Cup with its other sports and says the sports will be streamed from a specialist platform provider with experience of streaming live sports. It will be different from the one it now uses for Lightbox.

New Zealanders are looking for different ways of viewing their favourite programmes. Earlier this month, NZ On Air released a report showing Netflix is now attracting more New Zealanders than free-to-air television channels Three and TVNZ 2.The report showed a general decline in linear television consumption while online video and subscription video on demand have shown some significant growth.

Spark says it is setting out to transform the way sport is distributed and viewed in New Zealand.

To do that, Spark will need to ensure it does not have the same problems as experienced by Optus in Australia. Rugby fans will be unforgiving if they miss the chance of witnessing a three-peat of World Cup success by the All Blacks.

A big concern among sports fans will be the cost of potentially having to pay for several different services in order to keep up with the range of different live sports.

SkyTV still has the rights to All Black matches until 2020, as well as the rights to Super Rugby and the Mitre 10 Cup.

Price and access will be pressure points for fans wanting to follow their sports. In years gone by, friends looked for friends with SkyTV rugby coverage. Next year, friends may be looking for someone streaming Spark.

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