Spark's Lightbox launches, with a little surprise from the boss

Spark Venures digital media head Simon Hoegsbro with Lightbox CTO Mike McMahon (Chris Keall)
Spark boss Simon Moutter: 70,000+ subscriber target for Lightbox by June 2015. No pressure
Spark 24-month price history (NZX.com)
Lightbox features frill like the ability to stream HD video to two devices at once, five user profiles (with different favourite shows etc) under one account and a kid-safe mode

Spark's new Netflix-style service Lightbox went live at 12.01am last night.

It was all working fine* when I  signed up this morning (a 30-day trial is on offer for all-comers). The streaming video, delivered by Akamai, is smooth and scaled up to full high definition if your broadband connection can take it.

There were two new developments at a launch event last night:

  • While the $15 a month Lightbox is open to anyone, whatever their ISP, Spark [NZX:SPK] customers will get it at half price for their first six months.
  • Five new exclusive shows were announced: Suits, Black Sails, Franklin & Bash, Lost Girl and 3rd & Bird (scroll down to see more of Lightbox's shows. While its emphasis will be on a long tail of back-catalogue material, its pinning hopes on its exclusives Outlander, Vikings and 24: Live Another Day to perk up punters' attention)

Ads (created by Consortium**) will run on ye olde conventional broadcast TV to promote Lightbox, which Spark is bankrolling to the tune of $20 million in its first year (a big splash for a telco, but modest next to the $280 million Sky TV spent on programming alone in FY2014, out of its total spending of $656 million).

Lightbox will let you screen all the video you can eat to a laptop or iPad. And if you've got an Apple TV box attached to your TV, you'll be able to stream Lightbox content to your regular TV too (attaching your laptop to your telly via an HDMI cable is another option).

The gaps
Last night there was no news on when Android, smart TV or game console support would be added, or when local shows will join Lightbox's lineup. For now, Quickflix enjoys an advantage on all those fronts.

Lightbox says it has signed a local content deal, but was unable to process content in time for today's launch.

The service is in talks with smart TV makers an others, and expects to announce a platform support update by Christmas.

Today's launch comes almost exactly a year to the day since Spark CEO Simon Moutter and the board signed off on the project.

The service has been in beta for four weeks, Spark Venures digital media head Simon Hoegsbro told NBR last night.

The trial included several thousand people, drawn from different ISPs, and different parts of the country. A bunch of them were drawn from the Geekzone community.

On Spark's earnings call last week, Mr Moutter revealed his company's target is to have 70,000+ Lightbox subscribers by June 2015.***

Lightbox CTO Mike McMahon confessed Friday's earnings call was the first he'd heard of that specific target.

He said it was readily achievable. And if you do the maths, Lightbox's medium-term goal must be considerably higher. 70,000 Lightbox subs implies an annual revenue rate of $12.6 million. In the service's first year, it's budget is $20 million. Some of that is one-off setup costs, but programming costs are likely to increase from this point.

On Friday, the Geekzone testers were purged from the system.

The challenge for Lightbox now is to tear the geek crowd away from their Netflix accounts and to convince middle New Zealand that streaming video ondemand is the Next Big Thing.

Sky TV says it will launch its own Netflix-style service by year's end.

ckeall@nbr.co.nz

* One complication was that the Lightbox app was listed in the US version of Apple's AppStore, but a "no longer available" message came up when I tried to download it. I thought that might be a problem given, like many in the crowd of likely Lightbox early adopters I live in the American version of iTunes (which unlike iTunes NZ, features a decent line up of new release movies, and TV series). However, this didn't turn out to be an issue. I hopped back to my NZ account to download Lightbox then switched back to my US account and everything worked fine. I was streaming Lightbox content from my iPad to my 50-inch HD television (via an Apple TV) within minutes. 

I also watched Lightbox on my laptop, via a web browser. I had to install Microsoft's Silverlight first, but that took less than a minute. As with Lightbox on the iPad and TV, the video was smooth and the service worked fine. I'm on an ADSL (copper broadband connection) rather than the faster VDSL or fibre.

** Consortium's Paul Shale and Ralph Ralph Brayham are working on the Lightbox account. The latter has been in this territory before during his time as Telecom's GM for business development and new media, when he drove Telecom's role in the ill-starred TiVo NZ launch, which included the Caspa service for delivering pay-per-view content via broadband.

** In its 2013 annual report, Quickflix (which began its streaming service in 2011) said it had 108,000 paying subscribers across Australia and NZ. 


Lightbox' lineup includes

  • Outlander
  • Back Sails,
  • Suits
  • Franklin & Bash
  • Lost Girl
  • 3rd & Bird 
  • Mad Men
  • Alpha House
  • Betas
  • Arrested Development
  • Masters of Sex
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Breaking Bad
  • House of Cards
  • Homeland
  • The Blacklist
  • Sons of Anarchy
  • Modern Family
  • Downton Abbey
  • The Inbetweeners
  • Orphan Black
  • Doctor Who
  • The Wiggles
  • Dora The Explorer
  • Sarah & Duck

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