Two New Zealands: those that pay to see the All Blacks and those that do not

Sky TV was a perfect example of what is now known as a disrupter, using technology and a new business model to lure viewers away from the traditional free-to-air channels.

Its arrival heralded the end of television as an agent of social cohesion, because viewers were now presented with a wide range of viewing options. The days when virtually the entire population watched the same programmes were gone.

Crucial to Sky’s strategy was the acquisition of monopoly rights to screen major sporting events – a licence to print money in a sports-mad country. In this Sky was spectacularly successful, enabling it to become a dominant player in television – this, despite the company making virtually no contribution to the production of domestic programmes other than live sport.

Sky’s control of sport signalled the death of the egalitarian ethos by which all New Zealanders could share in the triumphs and disappointments of the country’s major teams.

There were now two New Zealands – the one that paid to watch the All Blacks or the Black Caps on Sky, and the rest. People without Sky no longer feel the same engagement with national teams because they don’t get to see them play. I could trip over Sam Cane or Ryan Crotty in the street tomorrow and not recognise them.

But perhaps Sky’s golden run is coming to an end, because an even more potent disrupter has entered the market. I watched Twin Peaks on Lightbox and immediately before that I enjoyed Fargo – the TV series, not the movie – on Netflix.

I can stream television programmes using these services at whatever time of day I like and there are no commercial interruptions. Streaming elevates freedom of choice to a whole new level, and suddenly Sky TV is looking very much like yesterday’s technology. How very sad.

Sky still controls major sport, of course, and showed its arrogance and greed on Saturday night by broadcasting a commercial when we should have heard the British national anthem before the Eden Park rugby test.

I will dance on Sky’s grave, metaphorically speaking, if and when it loses its stranglehold. It would be poetic justice if it was brought down by the same process of technological disruption that enabled it to thrive in the first place.

FOOTNOTE: Alert readers will notice an error in this column. I was wrong about Sky playing a commercial over the “British national anthem” before Saturday night’s rugby test. A moment’s thought would have told me they couldn’t play God Save the Queen with Irishmen in the Lions side. Several commenters on Stuff certainly let me know about my mistake. I’ve left it in as a lesson to myself to be more careful in future.

Karl will find many kindred spirits here.   There is nothing wrong with a virtual monopoly as long as the customers are being treated with respect.   Sky has never had that respect for its customer base.  As their income plummets, all they can think to do is charge more and provide less.

I’ll repeat myself:  Sky TV are on the way out.

 

Karl du Fresne


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