PAT PILCHER looks at how some rugby fans are bypassing Sky’s Fan Pass and the bigger issues it raises.
It launched in 2015, and has a special place in my heart. Back in 2014 I was fed up with a lack of sci-fi on the small screen and launched a petition calling for a sci-fi channel. Before long, the NZ Herald got hold of the story and signatures from similarly irate Kiwi sci-fi fans began flow in.
Moving forward a year or so later (the gears grind excruciatingly slow in TV land), I met the team from Sky who gleefully announced they were launching a sci-fi channel.
The Zone was about the only reason I continued to pay $1200 a year for Sky. The other 50 or so channels I was paying for were (and still are) of little to no interest.
The news isn’t totally dire, however. There’s now a plethora of legit online video streaming services operating in NZ offering sci-fi content. Thanks to a zippy fibreX broadband connection, getting my sci-fi fix is easy, and cheaper than paying for a bunch of channels I didn’t want in the first place.
Sadly, it seems that Sky are failing abysmally at this. Alienating a small number of sci-fi geeks like me is one thing, but incurring the wrath of sports fans is a much larger matter altogether.
Sky, which has a near-monopoly on the broadcast of most sports in New Zealand, dropped daily and weekly passes to their Fan Pass sports streaming service and announced that its monthly subscription was to increase from $60 to $100. In a rugby and cricket-obsessed nation like New Zealand, this went down like a proverbial cup of cold sick.
Social media filled with rants from irate sports fans, and some announced they were pulling the plug on Sky altogether. This was best summed up by one disgruntled user on Reddit who said “That’s it, I’m done with Sky TV… F*ck them, I’m streaming bloody everything from now on and the sooner they go broke the better.”
Amongst the large numbers of furious sports fans was Mike Riversdale, a Fan Pass user and rugby fan.
“I’ve never been a Sky fan and certainly don’t want to add to the monopoly of broadcasting of our essential sports (being a Welshman in New Zealand I am a bit passionate about rugby). Having said that, HOW EXPENSIVE could they make it. Madness.”
Mike spent some time trying to find an online source for streamed rugby coverage. It turns out that this was more risky that you’d think.
“They are harder to find now and almost always try and infect or scam you, so it’s not something I’d recommend to anyone.”
He could head to a pub to catch a game, but that isn’t always a practical option, especially when the cost of buying the odd drink is factored on. Similarly, going to a mate’s house wasn’t going to work either.
Just when it seemed that Mike was running out of options he stumbled upon RugbyPass. It offers high quality legal streaming access to rugby games. There’s only one catch: you need to live outside of NZ to get it.
As a tech savvy sports fan, this didn’t deter Mike. He downloaded and installed Android Turbo VPN on his smartphone. It allowed him to spoof his connection so it looked like it was coming from another country to bypass geo-blocks. Doing this gave Mike all the access he needed to streamed rugby goodness from Rugby Pass.
According to Mike, getting streamed rugby off the small screen on his smartphone to his TV wasn’t terribly difficult either.
“I get the RugbyPass app on the phone playing via the VPN and then, through the magic of Google, I Chromecast it to the TV screen.”
So getting around Fan Pass might be entirely possible, but what of its bigger implications?
Getting a live broadcast from an international rugby test involves a huge investment in network infrastructure, people and equipment, not to mention the much-debated costs involving issues like the labyrinthine legalese of broadcasting rights.
If enough Kiwi rugby fans desert Sky Sport en-masse, there will be little financial incentive for Sky to continue broadcast rugby. This would translate into no Sky cameras, crew or broadcast trucks at games and probably no rugby coverage. Free to air TV networks such as TVNZ or TV3 could in theory scoop up the rights at a discount (they’d be worth considerably less if Sky walked away from them) and step into the breach, but that’s not a guaranteed option.
The moral at the end of the day is that broadcasters are in a precarious situation. Annoy too many viewers and they’ll go elsewhere – there’s plenty of options for them. The longer term consequences of this on sports broadcasting remains to be seen.