Govt scuppers Maori TV's bid for rugby rights

By Patrick Gower

File photo / Martin Sykes
File photo / Martin Sykes

The Government has scuppered Maori TV's bid for exclusive free-to-air rights to screen the Rugby World Cup by putting up enough money for TVNZ to outbid it.

Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman today confirmed TVNZ now had a bigger bid than Maori TV, which had at least $3 million in taxpayer funds from the Ministry of Maori Development, Te Puni Kokiri.

Dr Coleman said he would get Cabinet to approve the extra money for TVNZ.

He said TVNZ was leading a "consortium" bid, which would see it TV3, and hopefully Maori TV share the coverage.

TVNZ and TV3 would show six live games each: two pool All Blacks pool games, the semi-finals, final and third-fouth play-off.

This would mean all the All Blacks games would be available on one of the two major broadcasters.

Maori TV would be able to show all of the 16 main games live.

The coverage is based on pictures sent through by host broadcaster Sky, which means they do not have to set up cameras, as they will be supplied.

The board of IRB subsidiary Rugby World Cup Ltd met this week to discuss the bids, but it did not come to a decision about a preferred bidder as expected.

IRB spokesman Ross Young said the board now expected to make a decision by the end of the year.

Mr Young said the IRB had "a couple of compelling bids on the table". He would not identify the two bids but the Herald understands he was referring to TVNZ and Maori TV.

Maori TV was initially the frontrunner for the rights after receiving a $3 million boost from the Ministry of Maori Development, Te Puni Kokiri, which enabled the broadcaster to bid more than TVNZ or TV3 said they could afford.

TVNZ then resubmitted its bid at the last minute, after senior figures in the National Government became aware of the Maori TV funding boost authorised by Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples.

TVNZ is cash-poor. Last month, for example, it said it could not afford to show the Commonwealth Games, and sold the rights to Sky.

It is not known how TVNZ has managed to come up with more money for the rugby bid.

Spokeswoman Megan Richards would only say that its bid was "innovative".

Mr Young said the IRB wanted clarification of the financial and scheduling aspects of the competing bids.

The board that will decide on the bid is made up of some of the most powerful men in world rugby, including IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset.

It will meet again late next month.

Prime Minister John Key said the two state broadcasters and responsible ministers had started working together only after the Maori TV bid became known.

Maori TV's bid to get the free-to-air rights exclusively has effectively been ruled out by Mr Key's unrealistic demand that its coverage reach 100 per cent of New Zealanders.

The PM has said that Maori TV would do this through sub-licensing the rights, most likely to TVNZ.

- NZ Herald

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