There are a couple of different ways to interpret NZ Rugby's move to setup its own site, AllBlacksTV.com, for streaming All Blacks games on a pay-per-view basis (see end of story for a list of the end-of-season, second-tier games it will stream, via desktop, mobile or, via wifi, your TV. All options will be HD. Maori All Blacks games will cost $15 a pop, All Blacks matches $25):
One, like various sports bodies overseas, NZ Rugby is flexing its muscles. These games could have been offered through Sky TV's Fanpass service. Instead, NZ Ruby is taking more control of its content — giving itself access to an international audience as well as a domestic one (there will be no geo-blocks on the new site) and putting itself in the driving seat for negotiations for broadcast and streaming rights post-2020, when its current five-year deal with Sky expires.
Two, it's a smart way for Sky TV to keep itself in the mix as new media competitors sniff around for rights. Sky TV might have said: we'll keep filming all the games and broadcasting them in New Zealand, but we'll help you with this new venture for reaching fans in the rest of the world on a pay-per-view basis, no Amazon Prime required. However, if AllBlacksTV.com eventually extends from second-tier games to offering matches against top-flight competition on a pay-per-view, no-contract-required basis, it will obviously be a challenge to Sky's core satellite business (Sky recently stunted its own no-contract service, Fanpass, by eliminating its day and week pass options, and hiking the price of a one-month pass).
Reaching a worldwide fan base of millions
In a statement (the first half of which could have been drafted by Sky's PR team, the second by his own) NZ Ruby chief executive Steve Tew says:
"Sky remains the home of live rugby in New Zealand, and the only place you can watch every All Blacks match live across the season. This includes the three All Blacks Tests coming up on the Vista 2017 All Blacks Northern Tour in November against France, Scotland and Wales.
“The livestream is a significant opportunity for us to use the latest streaming technology to grow the All Blacks global fanbase. There are over seven million allblacks.com and social media followers that live outside New Zealand so there is a real opening to engage these fans and grow our brand and following internationally by extending our broadcast options."
In a research note mulling a possible Amazon move into New Zealand, Forsyth Barr noted 120 million watched the All Blacks in the last Rugby World Cup final, indicating the upper-end of the potential audience if Amazon made a bid for NZ, regional or global rights to All Blacks games.
There are a number of questions.
What technology is being used for AllBlacksTV.com. Is it NeuLion, the US outfit that manage Sky's pretty-reliable Fanpass, or will it be based on Sky's inhouse-developed, ropey Go? (NBR will endeavour to find out, though answers may not be forthcoming until after the holiday weekend).
Would NZ Rugby trample on other unions' territorial broadcast rights if it tried to stream games against the likes of England, Australia and South Africa via AllBlacksTV.com?
Is this a brave new dawn in NZ Rugby thinking, or will it peter out like the YouTube HD live streaming experiment before it (for an All Black-Wallabies game way back in 2013; these days it could be pay-per-view via Google Play or YouTube Red)?
And is Mr Tew weighing the benefits of sticking with Sky vs partnering with TVNZ or MediaWorks for broadcast rights, and maybe going broader with an NZ Rugby app and streaming service that, say, charges $5 a game that will help generate larger audiences for sponsors?
Deep pockets, but how much do they want to spend it on sport?
Amazon and other new media players have deep enough pockets, but as Sky boss John Fellet points out, the rights they have bought so far are either non-exclusive or for games around the fringes. And while Facebook was willing to bit a stonking $840 million for streaming rights to Indian Premier League games, that still wasn't enough.
But will putative interest from Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter in buying sports rights build from their current warm-up phase, or will it fizzle out as the years go by?
Either way, in the near-term NZ Rugby has a golden opportunity to expand the reach of the All Blacks brand.
Amazon is said to be pushing for talks over post-2019 rugby rights to begin as soon as April next year. The advent of AllBlacksTVcom indicates NZ Rugby and Sky TV won't be sitting on their hands until then.
AllBlacksTV.com games coming soon
Maori All Blacks v CanadaFriday 3 November at BC Place Stadium, Vancouver, Canada, Kick off 7pm PDTYour time: Saturday 4 November, Kick off 3:00PM
All Blacks v BarbariansSaturday 4 November at Twickenham, London, Kick off 3pm GMTYour time: Sunday 5 November, Kick off 4:00AM
Maori All Blacks v French BarbariansFriday 10 November 2017 in Bordeaux, France Kick off 9pm CETYour time: Saturday 11 November, Kick off 9:00AM
All Blacks v French XVTuesday 14 November at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon, France, Kick off 6.55pm CETYour time: Wednesday 15 November, Kick off 6:55AM
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