COMMENT:

Spark‘s coup in scoring the English Premier League rights provides the company with an important testing ground ahead of next year‘s Rugby World Cup.

The recent hash-up across the ditch, where Optus angered an entire nation by failing to deliver a working stream during the Fifa World Cup, sent a stern warning to Spark about the risks involved with sporting events of national significance.

The inability of Optus to sort out its streaming woes eventually led to the telco sheepishly handing over the rights to rest of the tournament to broadcaster SBS, which gleefully took over the responsibility.

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At a time when we are constantly told that streaming is the future of sports broadcasts, this felt a bit like calling your grandfather to save you from a bar fight. The old-timer of New Zealand broadcasting, TVNZ, will no doubt similarly acquiesce to stepping into the ring and knocking out the buffering should it be required during the Rugby World Cup. And herein lies the immediate value of Spark‘s win of the English Premier League rights.

The English football tournament will give Spark months to tweak its platform, iron out glitches, and ensure it delivers a service worth paying for.

Rather than leaping off the couch straight into a marathon, Spark is setting itself up for a weekly training regime that will force the company into delivering sports streams to football fans over the course of the season.

The move into sports streaming has always had a big PR aspect to it, with Spark putting its already-fragile reputation on the line with this gamble.

While it would prefer to avoid any mishaps, you can rest assured that Spark would rather see a stream fail during a weekend match-up between the likes of Manchester City and Huddersfield than, say, the group game match featuring the All Blacks and the Springboks.

There might some fallout if Spark‘s streams were to fail during some of bigger football matches, but that doesn‘t compare to infuriating a rugby-mad nation during an event that they waited four years to watch.

The months in the lead-up to the World Cup will also provide an opportunity for Spark to familiarise audiences with a platform that does not yet exist.

Spark will want to make its content accessible across as many devices as possible, which will mean developing apps compatible with smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and gaming consoles. As weeks roll on, the company will be able to identify and exterminate gremlins before the Rugby World Cup curtain raiser on September 20, 2019.

Finally, this will also give Spark the opportunity to experiment with a few contingency plans in preparation for the worst-case scenario of streams dropping out during key matches.

It‘s anyone‘s guess what such back-up plan might look like, but Spark will have to get creative to ensure it doesn‘t repeat the mistakes of Optus.

Get this wrong and it‘s unlikely World Rugby will trust the telco with its hallowed tournament again – no matter how much cash is thrown on the negotiating table.