HomeNewsRugby UnionNew Zealand

Spark Sport makes Rugby World Cup assurances amid streaming concerns

New Zealand telco Spark has promised that its streaming service will deliver the “best possible video quality” during the upcoming Rugby World Cup amid concerns from subscribers with low internet speeds.

Spark acquired rights to this year’s Rugby World Cup, along with a host of other tournaments staged by World Rugby, in April 2018. Spark outbid pay-television broadcaster Sky for the rights to the tournament, which runs from September 20 to November 2 in Japan.

After acquiring rights for the World Cup, Spark entered into a sublicensing agreement with TVNZ, through which the public-service broadcaster will air selected matches from the tournament free to air.

Last month, Spark struck a deal with Sky to grant the latter’s commercial subscribers access to its coverage of the World Cup, but said an agreement for the broadcaster’s home subscribers would not be forthcoming. As part of the deal, commercial premises will be able to buy access to a Spark Sport pop-up channel on their Sky decoder.

Spark Sport will be available for a one-off fee of NZ$80 (€46/$51) during the World Cup but New Zealanders living in rural areas last week expressed concerns that they will not be able to access the coverage due to slow internet speeds.

Spark Sport has now said that it has listened to feedback from customers and has insisted that its coverage will be of a higher quality.

The highest rendition on compatible devices will be HD (1080p), 60 frames per second and a bit rate of up to 7Mb/s. The previous top bit rate was 6Mb/s.

Jeff Latch, head of Spark Sport, said the service would provide the highest video quality that each device supports “within the next week”.

Latch added: “For context, when we launched in beta in March 2018, we offered a frame-rate of 60 frames per second. As we launched a range of Spark Sport apps to ensure that we were available on an increased range of devices, it was necessary to lower the default frame-rate to 30 frames per second, as some of the new devices didn’t offer a good viewing experience at 60 frames per second.

“In the meantime, we’ve developed a framerate selector, which will launch soon and will allow us to offer 60 frames per second to devices that are equipped to deal with it, while still offering 30 frames per second to devices that are better off at that level.”

Spark Sport streamed coverage of the New Zealand squad announcement earlier today (Wednesday) and the telco said it went ahead successfully.

Spark Sport has admitted that 2017 and 2018 LG televisions encounter difficulties when operating the service, with pre-2017 models of Samsung, Sony and Panasonic TVs experiencing similar problems.

Customers with older LG TVs will be required to watch Spark Sport by using a streaming device such as an Apple TV, a Google Chromecast or a Freeview Smart VU.