COMMENT

Sky has suddenly developed an enthusiasm for sharing rugby viewership figures - perhaps to put the heat on its budding rival, Spark, which is playing its cards close to its chest.

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Saturday's one-sided All Blacks-Tonga clash was watched by 440,000 on Sky Sport and Prime, and an estimated 100,000 in pubs and clubs and 23,000 streaming via Sky Sport Now (formerly Fanpass) or Sky Go, the broadcaster said.

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Earlier, Sky said the second Bledisloe test was watched by 523,400 on Sky decoders, 408,000 on Prime, an estimated 100,000 in a pub or club, and 55,000 who streamed via Sky Sport Now or Sky Go.

For its part, Spark Sport streamed the Japan-South Africa World Cup warmup match on Friday evening.

Spark Sport head Jeff Latch said some people had bought a RWC Tournament Pass but not tried it out with the service's library footage. He encouraged people to jump in and give it a go with the host's game against the Springboks.

On Saturday morning, following a glitch-free stream, Spark Sport said viewership of the friendly was "the highest of any live event to date since Spark Sport launched in March".

The telco declined to give any detailed numbers, however. (It has also long maintained that it won't detail Spark Sport costs until its first earnings report post-World Cup).

Earlier, Latch said Spark had worked with Chorus and other broadband players to prepare for up to 500,000 simultaneous Rugby World Cup streams. That seems quite a gold-plated setup, especially given there will be a degree of "offset" or people who would have been streaming anyway, just on Netflix rather than rugby.

Spark's issue, however, is that providing raw bandwidth is just part of the problem (and, arguably, the easiest to solve if you're willing to throw enough money at it). But there are other links in the chain - and in some cases, a home user unfamiliar with wi-fi or the ins-and-outs of Google Chromecast would be the weakest.

If things go south, Spark says it will transfer a game to TVNZ within minutes.

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If things go to plan, TVNZ will still bolster the RWC's total viewership by screening a swag of games on a one-hour delay with no ads (beyond those already carried on Spark Sport) - including the opener, all of the All Black's pool games, and the AB's presumed quarter-final. TVNZ will also carry both semis and the final live (see the full list of 14 free games below).

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Spark is also offering Spark Sport free to those who buy or upgrade to an eligible Spark broadband plan, or to existing Spark broadband customers who take a mobile deal.

And, in part to address the 40,000 or so rural households without good enough broadband to stream the RWC, Spark has also made its Tournament Pass available to pubs and clubs at its household rate, and worked with Sky to create an RWC pop-up channel for commercial venues.

Although Sky is ribbing Spark, the telco can take heart that streaming is starting to pay-off for the pay TV provider - indicating the technology can gain acceptance, and work commercially.

At its recent full-year results briefing, Sky said the number of people paying to stream content on its Sky Sport Now and Neon apps had risen from 107,000 to 161,000 - or enough to offset the decline in satellite subscribers and deliver Sky its first overall year-on-year gain in subs in three years.

If you're keen to jump onboard with streaming, Spark's $79.99 early-bird RWC Tournament pass offer ends today. After today, the tournament will cost $89.99 or $24.99 per game.

Rugby World Cup matches broadcast free to air on TVNZ 1
• Friday 20 September / Pool A, Match 1 (opening match) / Japan v Russia / LIVE
• Saturday 21 September / Pool B, Match 4 / NZ v South Africa / Delayed by 1 hour
• Saturday 28 September / Pool C, Match 13 / Tonga v Argentina / LIVE
• Wednesday 2 October / Pool B, Match 20 / NZ v Canada / Delayed by 1 hour
• Friday 4 October / Pool B, Match 23 / South Africa v Italy / LIVE
• Sunday 6 October / Pool B, Match 27 / NZ v Namibia / Delayed by 1 hour
• Wednesday 9 October / Pool D, Match 32 / Fiji v Wales / LIVE
• Sunday 12 October / Pool B, Match 34 / NZ v Italy / Delayed by 1 hour
• One quarter-final: TBC, but will be the NZ match, assuming the team progress past the pool stage / Delayed by 1 hour
• Saturday 26 October / Semifinals, Match 45 / LIVE
• Sunday 27 October / Semifinals, Match 46 / LIVE
• Saturday 2 November / Final, Match 48 and medal ceremony / LIVE

Rugby World Cup matches streamed on Spark Sport free-to-view
• Wednesday 25 September / Pool D, Match 10 / Fiji v Uruguay / Delayed by 2 hours
• Monday 30 September / Pool A, Match 18 / Scotland v Samoa / Delayed by 2 hours