Sky TV to Garner: Hey, buy the rights

America's Cup petition cuts no ice.

Sky TV says it will screen every race in the America's Cup final series free-to-air on Prime — albeit on a 90-minute delay, a la Prime's coverage of Super Rugby and All Blacks games.

Will this move mollify broadcaster Duncan Garner, who launched a petition for Sky to make the final free-to-air?

This morning, he told NBR Sky's decision was "brilliant."

But to play devil's advocate, or Duncan's advocate, wouldn't it be better if the free-to-air coverage was live rather than delayed?

If he does take that tack, there will be no sympathy from Sky.

"The rights were open for MediaWorks and longstanding America’s Cup broadcaster TVNZ to purchase," Sky corporate comms director Kirsty Way tells NBR.

"They have chosen not to but luckily Sky has delivered this event for New Zealanders to see. If Duncan wants the event in its entirety on free to air, he would be better off to lobby both his employer and TVNZ – New Zealand’s largest free to air providers."

She adds, cheekily, "I hope the Prime coverage doesn’t impact his brekky show ratings too much."

The situation is coloured by Sky's ongoing legal battle with the major free-to-air broadcasters over their use of Sky highlights in their sports news.

Sky has managed the free-to-air issue for major sports events reasonably adroitly. It is, of course, looking to the America's Cup and the Lions tour to help turn around its recent drop in subscriber numbers. But it has also had a pretty good political instinct over when to compromise, such as with the Rugby World Cup finals.

The anti-siphoning threat
With Garner's threat neutralised, Sky's next threat could if NZ First comes to power as part of a Red-Green-Black coalition on September 23.

NZ First MP Clayton Mitchell has campaigned for similar "anti-siphoning" laws as operate in Australia; that is, legislation that means all "significant" sporting events have to be free-to-air.

Games on the Aussie anti-siphoning list are under constant revision. But even after a recent liberalising of the rules, it still includes AFL and NRL premiership matches, all State-of-Origin league games, soccer World Cup matches involving Australia and the final, rugby tests involving Australia played in Australia or New Zealand, and Rugby World Cup matches involving Australia and the final.

So far, it's looking like a minor threat.

Mr Mitchell managed to get a private member's bill chosen in the ballot, and the Broadcasting (Games of National Significance) Amendment Bill went before Parliament on March 23 – but it was shot down in flames as Labour joined National in opposing it (some would say thanks to meticulous spadework by Sky's long-time, now-departed government relations supremo Tony O'Brien).

Labour's Trevor Mallard said there was no way the bill could pass.

"No government is going to take $125 million a year from sport, that comes from broadcasting rights," he said. (According to its annual report, Last year the Rugby NZ booked $73 million for broadcasting rights, up from the prior year's $38 million – presumably because NZ Rugby was able to parlay the threat of new media competition to pump up the price of rights for its 2016-2020 deal with Sky.)

NZ First could put anti-siphoning on the table during coalition talks (and remember, perennial Sky-booster Mr Mallard is retiring as an electorate MP).

But I suspect other issues will take priority.

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