Spark and TVNZ securing rights to broadcast the Rugby World Cup next year is being described as "a real kick in the guts" for rural New Zealand.

The rights have previously been held by Sky TV so anyone who had a Sky box would have access to the games.

Highlights, delayed All Black pool games and several major live matches were also available on Prime TV.

Next year's event will see the games broadcast across Spark's broadband network, however some remote areas in New Zealand have limited internet access or low-speed, which could restrict viewing of the event.


Canterbury sheep farmer Murray Smith who lives rurally said while he had both Sky and Spark broadband, his internet was slow and not capable of streaming video to a high standard.

He said the decision would leave a number of people unable to watch the games.

"I'm concerned about people that are more remote than us who would probably have got Sky for the fact that they like watching live rugby and they may not have access to broadband," Smith said.

"It's a real kick in the guts for rural New Zealand."

Spark managing director Simon Moutter has said the company would be doing its best to ensure everyone had access to the event, and in extreme situations, would be looking to screen games at local rugby clubs or schools which had internet.

He said there would only be a small number of people in New Zealand who wouldn't have access by the World Cup, adding that with the Spark and TVNZ deal, the event would be accessible to a much wider audience.

"We'll figure out a way to make it accessible, and I do remind people that accessibility for the last Rugby World Cup was limited to homes that had a Sky box," Moutter said.

"We would never have bid for this if we didn't think the network could handle it, and we could deliver."

Spark managing director Simon Moutter. Photo / Dean Purcell
Spark managing director Simon Moutter. Photo / Dean Purcell

Although plans to set up at local sites was admirable, Smith said people like his parents - in their mid-80's - were not likely to drive to a school or rugby club to watch the game and although it might be a small group, there would still be people who would miss out.

"Thinking more of the elderly, it's a lot easier to just turn on the TV rather than try and start up your electronic device and stream it," he said.

"I'm not that literate as far as that sort of thing goes and I think the elderly would struggle."

Rural broadband supplier Farmside's chief executive Jason Sharp said while there was a rural broadband initiative being rolled out, there would be pockets outside of this which is where challenges would arise.

"We're looking at how we can prioritise delivery of rugby across our internet for customers and looking at technology that will prioritise the traffic, but also data is an issue," Sharp said.

"In a rural environment you don't have the benefit of unlimited data so any streaming will have a massive impact on your data consumption, so we're also looking at how we protect that."

Sharp said the company was looking at stopping this data usage for one-off occasions such as for All Blacks games.

He said while the first priority was making rugby accessible to customers, the second was ensuring the delivery was seamless with no buffering, which it would be working on prior to the event.

Spark had 18 months to prepare for the event and Moutter said he was confident the company would be ready, adding the model would allow all viewers to watch the event how and when they wanted.

"It's completely unbundled, a la carte, pick and choose what you like and pay price points you feel comfortable with that represent your level of interest, and we think that's massive for accessibility for the game," Moutter said.

"If you look at the material on rugby, the interest levels in rugby amongst younger people has dropped with a range of competing sport options, but part of it is they're not really able to view it because not many young people buy an expensive full buffet high-priced monthly service," he said.

"I think this will be a lot more appealing."