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Spark’s All Blacks streaming coverage hit by technical glitches

Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

New Zealand telco Spark suffered technical problems during its live stream of the All Blacks’ opening Rugby World Cup game against South Africa on Saturday that interrupted viewing for several thousand households.

Spark apologised for the problems and promised to deliver the remaining 41 matches “perfectly”. As a contingency, the platform simulcast the second half of New Zealand-South Africa, and the three World Cup games played on Sunday, on public-service broadcaster’s TVNZ’s Duke free-to-air television channel.

The Stuff.co.nz website reported that Spark’s head of sport Jeff Latch said: “Spark Sport own the problem, but it was a configuration issue getting the video stream from the US back to New Zealand…

“We very much apologise for that. We’ve worked incredibly hard to sort out what went wrong and we’re confident that the remaining matches will all stream well.”

The company is offering refunds to affected customers.

It is an embarrassing slip for Spark, whose ability to deliver the World Cup via its streaming service has been the subject of intense debate in New Zealand since the platform surprised the market by acquiring the rights last year. Spark outbid pay-television operator Sky New Zealand, a long-term media rights partner of the RWC, and is under pressure to deliver high-quality coverage in the rugby-mad nation.

The New Zealand Herald reported that the country’s acting prime minister Winston Peters called the incident “an abject disaster”.

“They [Spark] were told to get ready and we hoped that they would be ready and they promised us that they would be and they’re not,” he said, speaking to a local radio station. “It’s not satisfactory.”

Latch said Spark’s streaming coverage of New Zealand-South Africa peaked at 132,000 concurrent streams, dropping to 126,000 at the end of the game. The opening match of the tournament on Friday, between Russia and Japan, peaked at 60,000 streams.

Spark has made the following refund options available to customers affected by the issue:

• Customers who purchased an All Blacks v South Africa Match Pass can receive a refund

• Customers with Tournament Passes who wished to leave the service can receive a full refund

• Tournament Pass customers wishing to carry on with the service can receive a 15-per-cent refund

• Customers who activated a Spark Sport subscription via a voucher code can receive a full or partial refund.

But the weekend wasn’t all bad news for Spark, with some New Zealand media pundits giving cautious praise to its production and delivery of the games, and welcoming a new competitor to the local sports media scene.