Hard News by Russell Brown


Dropping the Ball

There are times in government when you're obliged to depict a great, steaming pile of dung as a compelling new bulk organic product. Yesterday's announcement of a Rugby World Cup TV deal was such an occasion.

"New Zealanders will be able to see key Rugby World Cup matches live, free and nationwide, including the All Blacks' big matches, the semis and final," trilled Acting Rugby World Cup Minister Gerry Brownlee.


But was there ever any prospect that would not be the case? In the relatively straightforward days before various ministers involved themselves in the negotiations for broadcast rights, precisely such an offering was a certainty.

And, more notably, it was a certainty without $3.2 million of additional taxpayers' money being handed directly to the International Rugby Board, as is now to be the case. A successful bid from TVNZ or TV3, or the joint bid from TVNZ and Maori Television could all have gone ahead without extra government juice.

But, first Pita Sharples' clandestine plan to help channel contestable development funding from Te Puni Kokiri into a solo bid by Maori Television, then the hurried intervention of National Party ministers who feared a backlash from their own voters, set us on a path to subsidise a commercial deal that needed no subsidy.

It seems likely that there will be a few more taxpayer dollars going into Maori Television's RWC production, via TPK, but the amount and purpose of such funding was not made clear in the rather odd interview conducted with Maori Television CEO Jim Mather on Morning Report today.

Maori Television will screen all 48 games in the tournament -- and there is certainly an audience for such full-service coverage. Trouble is, it's an audience that already has Sky TV and enjoys watching sport in HD. The NBR story linked above suggests that Maori Television will broadcast in a mix of SD and HD, but I'm not aware that the broadcaster actually has the capacity to broadcast in high-definition.

So next year there will be key RWC games broadcast on six channels simultaneously: Sky Sport 1, Sky Rugby Channel, TV One, TV3, Maori Television and Te Reo (I think Te Reo is a must, but the promise of "up to 10%" Maori language in its commentaries seems weak).

At a time when Radio New Zealand can't afford to cover the Commonwealth Games, this is a mess.

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