COMMENT

The NZ-England World Cup semi was shown live on both TVNZ and Spark Sport, putting the partners head-to-head – and throwing one of the newcomers key limitations into stark relief.

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I watched parts of the game on both, comparing their performance (an exercise that was a welcome distraction from the scoreline).

Spark Sports’ stream was smooth and stable. Dibs for that.

But it was also running a good 45 seconds behind the action on TVNZ 1. Check out my Twitter video below (I was on a gig fibre connection and careful to be up-to-snuff with my Watch Live setting).

RWC video is beamed via satellite to TVNZ then up to the US to encoding partner iStreamPlanet, which hands off to Akamai, which in turn delivers the stream to Spark Sport customers. Graphic / Spark
RWC video is beamed via satellite to TVNZ then up to the US to encoding partner iStreamPlanet, which hands off to Akamai, which in turn delivers the stream to Spark Sport customers. Graphic / Spark

It’s simply a fact of streaming life that it will always trail broadcast TV. Earlier, Spark Sport head Jeff Latch said his service was shooting to minimise the delay between 20 to 40 seconds as the video feed came down from Japan to TVNZ HQ in Auckland for various production elements to be added, was zinged up to streaming partner iStreamPlanet in the US for the video to be encoded for multiple devices then (stay with me) was handed-off to content delivery partner Akamai to stream back to NZ. He said Spark Sport would aim to shave down the delay.

Still, I thought given TVNZ and Spark are partners, they might have reached a gentlemen’s agreement to align their video feeds. But, no, the state-owned broadcaster had the jump – and 45 seconds is plenty of time to hear spoilers on radio, or see them on live-blogs or social media – and who doesn’t have their phone to follow Twitter or Facebook as they watch a game these days?

Spark also missed a trick by carrying the same advertising feed as TVNZ. I can see the logic: ease of production convenience and a chance to recoup a bit of money.

But the tournament was always going to be a loss-leader for Spark. And it would have been a great point-of-difference if it could have stayed with Steven Hansen’s nervy, crackling press conference as TVNZ so gormlessly cut to a commercial break.

Spark needs to develop more production expertise inhouse so it’s less reliant on its free-to-air partner.

And it would help, too, if Spark took full advantage of the power of iStreamPlanet’s platform to offer frills like offering viewers’ different viewing angles, on-tap stats, captioning or (whisper it) in-game betting.

Latch earlier noted that Spark deliberately chose to stick to straightforward features, for safety – and that was a good call. But if the telco-turned-broadcaster is going to keep simulcasting some content with TVNZ (as I’m guessing we’ll see with cricket finals), then it will be good to see it throwing in some extra bells and whistles for online viewers.

VPNs: Don’t be a dick

There’s been renewed debate about whether Spark Sport and other streaming services can counter the use of low or no-cost virtual private network (VPN) software to access free coverage of a match – for example, by using a VPN to pretend you’re in the UK, so you can watch a stream that’s available free there.

But there can be performance issues with VPNs, which usually slow your whole internet connection. And you should know you’re giving the VPN provider – whom you don’t know from Adam – the same deep level of access to your online activity that you would ordinarily only give your ISP (which is bound by NZ’s privacy regulations and other laws about how it uses your data.

And: just don’t be a dick. It might be a legal grey area, but by using a VPN you’re denying NZ media revenue and, by extension, NZ sports teams funding. You can justify it, at a pinch, if a local service falls over, but almost all of the time Spark Sport and Sky Sport Now have worked fine.



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