Spark has revealed what it will cost to watch the 2019 Rugby World Cup through its Spark Sport app - plus a cover-its-bets approach that will see 12 games screen live or delayed on free-to-air partner TVNZ, including all pool games for the All Blacks, the AB's assumed quarter final, the semis and the final (see full list below).
Those who purchase a "super early bird" pass in May will pay $59.99 to watch live every Rugby World Cup match.
From June to early September, the price will be $79.99.
Then in the "final few days" before the tournament starts in Japan, the cost will rise to $89.99.
Single match passes will also be available for $24.99 once the tournament is underway.
Pubs and clubs will be charged the same amount as individual consumers - meaning a bar could screen the tournament to patrons for as little as $59.99 but Spark warns "future sporting events will be priced at commercial levels" for commercial premises.
Spark has also confirmed rumours it will take a conservative approach, with 12 games also screening on free-to-air partner TVNZ, and a fallback plan - as first revealed by the Herald on February 15 - for other games to be transferred to TVNZ's Duke channel "within a few minutes" in the event of technical glitches like those that ruined Optus' attempts to stream the FIFA World Cup to an Australian audience last year.
The free games will be a mix of live and one or two-hour delay, following the model that Sky used with its Prime channel.
The free-game line-up:
• 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 / Semi-finals, Match 45 / LIVE
• Sunday 27 October / Semi-finals, 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
Spark has so far released web, iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android versions of its Spark Sport app.
Spark Sport was launched for the Melbourne Grand Prix in mid-March, priced at $19.99 a month. That price included all the sports in the Spark Sport stable bar the Rugby World Cup.
You don't have to be a Spark customer to buy Spark Sport.
Spark says you won't have to buy its $19.99 plan if you want the World Cup; you can choose to buy a RWC pass only.
The insurgent sports streamer had a few technical wobbles with the second race of the Grand Prix with some on-demand footage freezing, but Spark said it was a process and human error issue rather than a technical problem and pledged to use the next few months to smooth everything out.
Last week, Samsung said it would be the first smart TV maker to support the Spark Sport app, which will be added to models going back to 2016.
Other TV makers are expected to announce their plans shortly, and Spark is expected to announce the availability of the Spark Sport app for more devices before RWC kick-off.
Departing MD Simon Moutter has noted that Lightbox, Netflix and other streaming services have educated hundreds of thousands of households about streaming. That is true, but that still leaves an equal number who don't know Airplay from their elbow. A huge education campaign is needed between now and RWC kick-off on September 21.
Mid-March, Spark said it had around 9000 Spark Sport subscribers. The company declined to give an updated figure.
What about refunds?
Spark is looking to lure people to sign up early with its $60 early-bird pricing.
That is a good deal for paywalled sports tournament by any measure. But what about those who're unsure if their broadband connection will be up to snuff in September?
You could move, or a promised fibre or wireless upgrade could fail to materialise in time, or other factors could come into play - including a worse-than-thought experience when everyone tries to pile in to watch a game at once, if you're on copper.
To wit, I asked Spark to clarify its refund policy.
A spokeswoman replied, "We have a high degree of confidence in Spark Sport and think that our customers will love it – but if a customer has had a poor experience that isn't caused by another party, we're happy to have a conversation and if suitable, look into an appropriate refund or a credit.
"To encourage customers to give Spark Sport a go, we do have a returns option in advance of the tournament kicking off. So for instance, if a customer buys a tournament pass, trials it but isn't happy with the experience in advance of the tournament starting, if they want to return their pass, we will cancel the pass and refund them the full amount paid.
"That's also why we have a free seven-day trial on the Spark Sport monthly subscription – so that customers can trial the service and cancel within the week if for any reason they don't want to continue."
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How to watch the Rugby World Cup
A Google Chromecast plugs into the HDMI port of your TV and uses your home WiFi to stream sports from your device onto your TV. When watching something on the Spark Sport app, just click the Chromecast icon, at the top right-hand side of the screen, to cast the sport to your TV.
Spark Sport is not currently available on Apple TV. The company says it is working to introduce this functionality over the next 6 months. In the meantime, if you have an Apple TV and an Apple device, you can AirPlay from your device to a big screen.
Laptop and Desktop
You can also catch the action from the Spark Sport website, either on your laptop or desktop computer. Spark Sport is available on Windows 7, 8 and 10 and MacOS X on the following browsers: Chrome, Firefox and Safari.
If you're out and about, sometimes you'll want to watch the action from your smartphone. To do this head to the App Store or Google Play Store and download the app. The Spark Sport app works on iOS 10 and above and Android 5.0 and above. Spark Sport will use your mobile data for streaming, if you are not connected to WiFi.
Spark Sport is not currently available to watch using an app on Smart TVs. Once again, the company says it is working to introduce this functionality onto a number of different TV makes and models. Samsung will add Spark Sport to its Smart TV app line up in May, supporting models going back to 2016.
A Spark Sport spokeswoman says "We have not announced a partnership with Xbox or Playstation. We do aim to expand the number of platforms that Spark Sport is available on, to make it as accessible as possible."