COMMENT

Spark is blaming partner TVNZ for audio problems during the Wales vs Australia World Cup match last night.

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The telco-turned-sports-streamer has also copped to an issue with the Georgia vs Uruguay game that followed.

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"There were some production issues with the audio feed from TVNZ, during the first few minutes of the match. However, these issues were quickly resolved," Spark said about the Wales-Australia clash.

We've seen a disturbing amount of buck-passing from the telco.

Spark pinned the Georgia vs Uraguay problems last night on unexpected water breaks (more on which below).

Previously we've had Spark blame "human error" at US-based streaming partner iStreamPlanet for a problem with a Black Sticks game.

iStreamPlanet also copped it for an earlier problem with the Bahrain Grand Prix, while a satellite glitch was blamed for problems with Spark Sport's English Premier League stream.

An "international satellite provider" was pegged as the culprit when half the NZ-Scotland U20 rugby match was lost in June.

And the finger was pointed at an "international partner" charged with delivering the Spark Sport feed from the US into NZ (which could only have been Akamai, going by Spark's previous comments about its setup). In that case, international bandwidth expert and former Telecom manager John Humphrey told the Herald the buck stopped with Spark in terms of technical input and management oversight.

Can Spark also pass the buck for last night's audio problems, which included cut-outs during the anthems and dual NZ and Welsh commentaries running into each other at the start of the game? (Some Spark Sport subscribers also complained about delayed audio at various points through the match, while there was also a steady drumbeat of complaint from those whose video cutout - the advice from Spark was a "hard reset" or pulling their 'Smart TV's plug out of the wall then plugging it back in).

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Spark said TVNZ had admitted culpability first. It was merely relaying that development.

And a TVNZ spokeswoman confirmed, "TVNZ Production experienced a circuit switching issue out of Japan during the start of Australia vs Wales. This created an audio issue with two commentaries broadcasting for two minutes after the anthems and a subsequent video replay. This has been remedied, but we're sorry if this impacted the start of match viewing.

Asked if it affected any others taking the host broadcaster's feed, she said, "No, it was an issue at our end."

TVNZ is handling almost all of the work on the production side of things, taking a feed from Japan to its studio in Auckland, then sending the post-production feed on to iStreamPlanet, who in turn hands it off to Akamai for content delivery into NZ.

With the audio issue coming down to the handoff between the host broadcaster and TVNZ at the start of this convoluted food chain, it seems likely it would have hit any kind of viewing, from a traditional TV broadcast to a stream.

Nevertheless, Spark is learning the hard lesson that punter don't give a monkey's about the cause of a problem with its stream - just as no excuses washed back in the days then Sky had problem after problem with Sky Go.

Spark Sport has behaved for most of the time. But just like a top rugby player, its performance during key games, when the pressure is on, is the only thing that really matters.

People just want the whole process managed properly - and part of being a sports broadcaster is monitoring every link in the chain.

And you just can't have dog's-breakfast organisation like the upgrade-your-broadband plan letter that went to some Spark Sport subscribers just hours before the opening ceremony. There's a sense of learning-on-the-job and it makes some subscribers furious.

Those darn water breaks

You need to war-game what could go wrong, and react quickly when the unexpected happens.

Speaking of which, what did go wrong with Georgia vs Uraguay?

"There were two additional water breaks in the Georgia vs Uruguay match, due to the heat, which caused the match to run overtime," a Spark Sport spokeswoman told the Herald."

We therefore needed to extend the scheduled match stream so there was a short period of time where people weren't able to enter the live stream.

"Some incoming viewers got 'this event has not started' and others may have got 'this event has ended'.

"However, this was quickly resolved. Customers who were already watching were unaffected. As this issue occurred right at the end of the match, only a few customers were affected."

One was Queenstown Spark Sport subscriber Paddy Baxtor who was not happy to have stayed up so late only to get the erroneous 'this event has ended' message going into the final 15 minutes of the match.

Asked if those unhappy with Australia-Wales or Uruguay-Georgia could get refunds, a Spark Sport spokeswoman said:

"In line with our standard refund policy, customers who feel they have had a poor experience with Spark Sport can contact us. We will work through their issue with them and in some cases provide them with a partial refund."

Spark has been offering 15 per cent refunds on Tournament Pass for those who had a poor experience with an individual game.

That is, people who are willing to jump through the hoops will receive between $9.00 and $13.50, depending on when you bought your pass.

There is also a full refund option, but only if people surrender access to the remaining games.