Moment of reckoning closer as online players circle but it would be wrong to write pay TV provider off.

Has Sky TV jumped the shark?

Shares in the dominant pay TV operator took a massive hit last week ending nearly 15 per cent down after Wednesday's negative profit forecast.

The company warned its annual profit would fall by up to 11 per cent as the business deals with rising costs and the challenge of online competition from streaming services such as Netflix and Lightbox.

Sky TV is a big company, still worth more than $1.7 billion, and it still makes a lot of money.


But the degree to which Sky is being punished by investors suggests a moment of reckoning is close.

Spark can afford to challenge Sky TV for rights on almost anything - including Game of Thrones.
Spark can afford to challenge Sky TV for rights on almost anything - including Game of Thrones.

Sky TV may finally have to confront the dreaded D word - disruption.

There are those who'll argue that Sky's long serving chief executive John Fellet has waited too long to make the big transformational moves the company needs, but that is not necessarily true.

Online streaming might be the new TV model but is a considerably less profitable one for Sky and moving too early might have left money on table.

Fellet and his team will also point to the launch of Neon - Sky's own streaming service.

Neon has put the company in the online game but does seem like a pretty half-hearted effort thus far.

Sky has been almost willfully slow in its approach, careful not to undercut its own lucrative customer base. But slow doesn't necessarily mean too late.

That's why it would be wrong to write Sky TV off. When it decides to fully restructure for the brave new internet world - as it eventually must - it will be a formidable player.


It could make life a lot more uncomfortable for its number one local rival Lightbox.

Thus far Lightbox - using parent company Spark's internet dominance to give itself away - has had a good run at establishing itself as a popular brand in this sector.

It is well positioned as an underdog and challenger despite actually being a shrewd long term play by a much bigger company.

Spark has a market cap of more than $6 billion and its ambitions in this space are really only limited by the strategic value the board and senior management decide to give it.

Spark can afford to challenge Sky TV for rights on almost anything - including Rugby or Game of Thrones - if it thinks it is worth it.

But that's the rub. It is not yet clear whether it will be worth it.

No pay TV player will ever make money like Sky has done for the past decade. The monopoly has gone and with it the ability to charge large monthly fees.

At about $12 a month, with no contracts so customers dip in and out as they please, this looks like a tough business to be in.

That's something for the board at Spark to ponder. But is a far bigger worry for Sky TV directors.

Even if Sky gets it just right - successfully reinventing itself to grab a strong position in the streaming TV market - its future looks less profitable and will ultimately require a lower cost structure.

At this stage it is fair to say Spark remains very excited about Lightbox and optimistic about its prospects for profitability if it can grab a dominant market position. It is absolutely gunning for Sky TV's subscribers which it calls "cord cutters".

Lightbox has just produced new research into the state of TV consumption in this country.

It predictably shows a rapid shift in viewing habits. Some 50 per cent of New Zealanders now watch free streaming content on services like YouTube, 23 per cent are using paid for streaming services, 25 per cent of New Zealanders regular watch TV on a device other than a TV.

And compared to the US, UK and Australia we are slow on the uptake. The future won't slow down. This is going to be a fascinating industry battle with multiple players - Netflix, Quickflix, YouTube, TVNZ, TV3 and a myriad of pirate options in the mix.

The US giants like Netflix are only gearing up in this market. My children already watch more YouTube than anything else and I have friends who argue it is easier than ever to get access to international providers with VPN services.

New Zealand's small population base typically allows for two or three profitable players in any given industry. On that basis casualties and consolidations look inevitable.

The only guaranteed winner appears to be the consumer.

So what about investors? Has Sky TV jumped the shark?

The pop culture term for a show being past its peak may well prove apt.

Like Happy Days, which actually ran a further six seasons after the infamous episode, Sky TV has a future.

But as viewing trends shift it looks like it is in for an increasingly dangerous ride through shark infested waters.