The second episode of Amazon’s All or Nothing: New Zealand All Blacks opens strongly.
It’s on the eve of the 2017 series against the Lions.
The camera is tight on coach Steve Hansen’s face as he says "It's a tough sport and it's getting tougher. The athletes are bigger and stronger and faster, and the contacts are happening at greater speed ... the worry is concussion."
Cut to the All Black, the recently concussed Ben Smith who captained the Samoa series, at home with his pre-school daughter, baby son and wife.
"I think the main thing is I just want to be a good dad for Walter and Annabelle and that's probably the scariest thing. Is that going to have long-lasting effects or is that going to come right? There's always that question in the back of your head.”
He pauses and bites his lip as if he's about to choke up.
Cut to a shot of a baby in a jolly jumper, then Ben's wife Kate, who says: "You feel bad for anyone who goes down but you always check it's not your number. You know what I mean. How bad does that sound? But I'm always like ’15; – oh no, I can relax. It becomes really hard to watch.”
A female voice (it’s not clear if it’s his wife or a producer) asks, “How many times can you take a head knock before you can reconsider?”
Ben says nothing.
The camera cuts to Kate, who says, "It's a pretty rough game, eh. That's okay. Just the way it is." Her face says it's not okay at all.
Dropping the usual WAG cliche in favour of an army wife angle is clever, and makes for gripping drama.
Kate Smith and baby Walter in All or Nothing. Amazon recently reported that 100m people worldwide are signed up to its Prime service, which includes basic access to its Prime Video streaming service.
I can’t say the same for episode one, which opens with the naming of the All Blacks team. It’s workmanlike stuff. There’s discussion of Ryan Crotty being dropped that will only interest hardcore ABs fans.
The team’s bus driver is interviewed.
There's the obligatory shot of Sonny Bill Williams topless.
There is lots of low-key Kiwi mumbling, which may surprise any international viewers who come to this doco via the two higher-octane All or Nothing instalments on US NFL teams.
Asked about how it feels to debut in the ABs at the expense of Julian Savea, Rieko Ioane replies: “I dunno, you ... probably I, ah, don't really want to talk about it too much.”
Steve Hansen makes no concessions to any international viewers. His drawl may need subtitles. Fans will find the brief glimpses of him running training sessions intriguing. There is salty language about opposing teams, and press ups dished out for missed passes.
But many of the behind-the-scenes glimpses are too brief, and overall there is too much of the polite, respectful distance that makes so much New Zealand mainstream media coverage of the All Blacks, outside games, so dull (the series was made by Warner, using a New Zealand producer and crew, for Amazon Studios. It includes game footage supplied by Sky TV, which gets to screen the series later this year as a quid pro quo, and liberal use of sound grabs from other Kiwi media sources).
And then there’s the unsatisfying narrative arc.
The 2017 Lions tour of course saw the ABs start dominant, then slip to a draw by the final test. It would have made for much better telly if it had been the other way around.
Still, I’m only two episodes in. Hopefully, the remaining instalments will be more like episode two than one.
All or Nothing will be available via Amazon Prime from June 1.
What's next? A grab for All Black rights?
Coupled with other recent developments, including Spark bagging World Cup 2019 rights, and the arrival of outside broadcasting giant NEP in New Zealand, it's easy to see All or Nothing: New Zealand All Blacks as a precursor to Amazon bidding for rights to All Blacks game post-2020.
Especially the way the ABs are pushing the doco, and Amazon Prime, on their official site.
But that is by no means a given.
Amazon has also made two similar series on NFL teams in the US. In that case, it was a precursor to Amazon bidding for rights. In April, Amazon renewed a deal to stream Thursday night NFL games, paying $US130 million (or 30% more than last year). But it's also important to understand that in the context of rights to A-list US sports, that was a chump-change side deal. Between them, traditional broadcasters Fox and NBC are paying tens of billions for multi-year rights to most games.
And while English Premier League team Manchester City also featured in an All or Nothing series, Amazon did not feature in the recent bidding for the next three seasons English Premier League rights — despite it being a relatively restrained auction that saw successful bids 13% below the last contract (rights across seven packages were split between Sky TV UK and BT).
Bottom line: Departing Sky TV boss John Fellet has a lot to worry about from Spark's increasing ambition to NEP breaking his company's long-time monopoly on the outside broadcast infrastructure needed to film local games. But the Amazon threat is looking over-baked.
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