New Sky NZ chief Stewart to begin fightback against Spark with Fanpass overhaul
Martin Stewart, the recently-installed chief executive of Sky TV, the New Zealand pay-TV broadcaster, has said that it needs to repair its relations with New Zealand Rugby, the sport’s national governing body, and other rights-owners, after losing rights to newcomer Spark.
The telecoms firm has disrupted the sports rights market in New Zealand by wresting away various top sports rights from the established Sky TV, but Stewart wants to re-establish Sky as the “home of sport” in the country.
Stewart was also critical of Sky’s own Fanpass sports streaming app, which he said was too restrictive and too expensive.
In an interview with the New Zealand Herald, he said: “The problem is that we've got 12 channels and our affiliate partners on Sky Sport. We put four onto Fanpass.
“Then we say, ‘You can only have it on two devices’. Then we say, ‘You can't cast it to a big screen’. And if all that hasn't been enough to put you off buying it, we make it NZ$99 [$68 a month].”
However, Stewart, who was previously chief executive of OSN, the pay TV network in the Middle East, and before that was chief financial officer at pay-TV’s Sky in the UK, praised Spark’s rival streaming coverage of last weekend’s Melbourne Grand Prix, saying: “Fair play to Spark, they've got a beta site up and running and it looks good in a short space of time - well done.”
Stewart said that Sky would offer a Fanpass app with more attractive pricing, the ability to stream content to big-screen TV and more content soon. He added: “I’m looking at the balance of investment and this time I want to see us do a lot more on the streaming side of the business.”
Top rugby rights acquired by Spark include the Rugby World Cup 2019, Women's Rugby World Cup 2021, World Rugby U20 Championships 2019 and Heineken Champions Cup.
Spark is to stream coverage of matches from the 2019 Rugby World Cup across various devices and on a live and on-demand basis, offering full tournament and individual match subscription passes.
Asked if he would have preferred to retain the Rugby World Cup rights (Sky, held the rights to the last two editions), Stewart said: “I would, yes. I would. It’s the World Cup of rugby union and the home of the All Blacks.
“I can't second-guess history - but I'm determined that Sky Sport will be seen as the home of sport. And that means retaining and building on the key rights that we have - not letting them go.”
At the time the rights were awarded to Spark in April last year, Sky described the Rugby World Cup as “an incredibly expensive event” to broadcast, saying that it offered to pay “significantly more” for the 2019 rights than it did for the 2015 tournament and that, therefore, Spark “paid a lot of money.”
Rights for the 2019 World Cup are being marketed by IMG, the international sports and entertainment agency.
Richard Last recently left (or was ousted) as Sky’s director of sport. Discussing his departure, Stewart said: “We have to adapt and evolve for the next period of time. A lot of the team have been with the company a long time, and sometimes you need a bit of a change of direction, a bit of a refresh.”
Sky’s subscription base has declined from a high of 860,445 at the end of 2015 to 750,321 at the end of last year.