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Spark sale of Lightbox to Sky ‘does not affect’ sports business

A spokeperson for New Zealand telco Spark said it remains “fully committed” to its OTT sports business, after agreeing to sell its Lightbox entertainment service to rival Sky New Zealand, Stuff.co.nz has reported.

Sky, New Zealand’s leading pay-television platform, will merge the Lightbox OTT service with its own entertainment streaming service Neon. The two services carry television series and films.

Lightbox was launched in 2014 as Spark diversified into video entertainment. In 2015, the telco moved into sports streaming with a partnership with local company Coliseum Sports Media, creating Lightbox Sport as a separate service. The CSM partnership was later dissolved. Spark has in the last couple of years ramped up its activity in sport, acquiring rights to a number of top properties and putting pressure on market-leading sports broadcaster Sky.

In October this year, Sky scored a major victory in its sports rivalry with Spark by renewing rights for the market’s most important properties – the bundle of rights sold by Sanzaar and New Zealand Rugby including All Blacks Rugby Championship games and Super Rugby – for the five years from 2021-25. Spark was targeting the rights, aiming to land what would have been a devastating blow on Sky whose business is under severe financial pressure.

The sale of Lightbox will raise questions over Spark’s commitment to sport, despite the company’s statement. The battle for sports rights with Sky has been an expensive one.

Welcoming the Lightbox deal, Spark’s marketing director Matt Bain said: “We’re really pleased to have found an ongoing home for Lightbox with Sky as part of a new combined SVOD platform with Neon. Following completion of the deal, we’ll be working closely with Sky to ensure that all existing Lightbox fans have a positive experience through this transition period, and we look forward to partnering with Sky to offer the enhanced new service to Spark customers.”

The press release announcing the deal said: “Spark and Sky have agreed commercial terms that – upon completion – will see the immediate transfer of ownership of Lightbox to Sky, with Spark continuing to run Lightbox’s operations during the transition period, Sky meeting the operational costs going forward, and wholesale arrangements for Spark to continue to offer Lightbox and the new enhanced service to Spark customers.” Financial details of the deal were not released.