Curran: TVNZ has not asked for World Cup cash

Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran says "TVNZ funds its own content."

If TVNZ (with Spark) is now a preferred bidder for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, it has achieved that status without a taxpayer handout.

After yesterday’s shock news that Sky TV had missed out on the cup coverage, National’s sports spokeswoman, Nikki Kaye said, “It’s important to respect the tender process. However [Broadcasting Minister] Curran must be clear about whether the government will provide additional funding to ensure greater access to either Rugby World Cup coverage or free-to-air sport as promised by Labour’s coalition partner.”

But it seems this is one jab the embattled Ms Curran can quite easily parry.

“TVNZ has not approached the government for funding for a broadcast rights bid,” Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran told NBR late yesterday.

Asked if the government would be open to a TVNZ World Cup funding request down the track, Ms Curran replied, “That’s a hypothetical – and you must remember TVNZ is a fully commercially-funded Crown-owned company and funds its own content.”

In its half-year report, TVNZ says it has $62 million in cash and equivalents. It’s also not clear (assuming TVNZ and Spark are mounting a combined bid; neither will comment) to what extent TVNZ will be required to chip in money, and to what degree it will provide support services to Spark.

Ms Kaye also noted, “While National did not campaign on a free-to-air sport policy, NZ First promised it would be a non-negotiable demand in its coalition discussions.”

Whether it was a non-negotiable demand is debatable; New Zealand First leader Winston Peters repeatedly said none of the party’s policies were deal-breakers.

But it was NZ First policy, and one of the party’s MPs, Clayton Mitchell, did get a private member’s bill to the floor of the House in 2016.

Mr Clayton’s bill called for similar measures to Australia’s so-called “anti-siphoning” legislation, which requires that an (ever-changing) list of sports events of “national significance” be broadcast free to air.

However, the bill failed at its first reading as Labour voted against it.

Ms Curran says such a measure is not part of the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement.

Judging by Labour’s voting record and policy, Sky seems to have won over the party with its anti-free-to-air legislation arguments, which include that Sky took risk and spent years to acquire its portfolio of sports rights, and that only contracts with paid content elements will generate enough money for NZ Rugby and other codes to retain top talent.

Shares thumped
Sky shares [NZX:SKT], already down 40% over the past year, tumbled nearly 8% yesterday as it alerted the market it was not a preferred bidder for the 2019 World Cup.

On Tuesday, departing Sky TV boss John Fellet stressed his company actually holds 10 different rugby contracts.

The subtext was perhaps that while a bad look (and certainly being taken badly by investors), losing the World Cup might help Sky's bottom line.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup in the UK coincided with a year of profit decline for Sky. Costs were up but the world cup was arguably not a big draw as all of the All Blacks big games were made available free to air – a politically savvy move for Sky as it looked to hold NZ First's anti-siphoning legislation at bay but also one that would have hurt its bottom line.

Hamilton Hindin Green analyst Grant Williamson noted that that the 2019 World Cup host country, Japan, is four hours behind New Zealand, which could impact the value of games. A match that started at 7pm local time, for example, would screen at 11pm in New Zealand.

The Hamilton Hindin Greene director says some Sky investors will fear a domino effect that could hit the pay-TV provider's other rugby deals but he also notes that with Sky's share price fall, its shares have essentially just returned to where they were on Monday. He notes that Sky has historically not always had exclusive World Cup rights.

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