After the Herald broke the news that Sky TV is set to lose Formula 1 motorsport rights, a number of fans took to social media to express their hopes that the official F1 app will be released here.

The Herald understands falling audience numbers for F1 races, in part pinned on start times shifting to the early-hours New Zealand time and extensive free highlights on Facebook, meant Sky was unwilling to make a competitive bid to renew rights.

It is not yet known who will pick up the rights but there is an indication of the ballpark cost. In August 2014, Coliseum Sports Media boss Tim Martin told this reporter his company had made a $6 million bid for four years' F1 rights for New Zealand. Coliseum was trumped by Sky. (Two months later, Coliseum, which then held English Premier League and US and European golf rights, would form its short-lived Lightbox Sport joint venture with Spark).

Spark, which recently regained Premier League rights for three years from the 2019/2020 season and the Rugby World Cup 2019, could be in the frame for Formula 1. Its managing director, Simon Moutter, has previously said rugby is not enough; a portfolio of top-flight sports is required for his company to be a serious content contender.


But on Twitter last night, some F1 fans were also hoping Sky's loss of rights could see the official F1 app available here (currently Formula One owner Liberty Media geo-blocks its app to Kiwis - or at least its live race coverage component).

Liberty launched its commercial-free F1 TV app in March, allowing F1 fans in the US, France, Germany and a number of other countries to watch races live for US$12 ($18.50) a month. A cheaper, non-geoblocked version offers historic races, behind-the-scenes footage and other frills.

But even if F1 TV does not end up being made available to New Zealanders for the next F1 season, the rise of direct-to-the-viewer apps remains a potent threat to old-school middle-men like pay TV broadcasters and newcomer content aggregators like Spark's Lightbox.

Apps allow the organisation that controls a competition to take more control of its rights, and potentially make more money. NFL Pass, NHL Pass and MLB TV are often cited as examples of successful apps in the US.

In the UK, the Premier League quietly launched its own app this season, complementing coverage already available via Sky TV UK, BT Sport and Amazon.

But the most notable on the sports side is official NBA League Pass app, which is not geo-blocked. Basketball fans anywhere in the world (including NZ) can watch any game streamed live - albeit at eye-watering prices (it costs US$184 to follow one team's games for a season or US$329).

At a recent media event, Sky TV director of sport Richard Last said at those sorts of prices, NBA League Pass did not represent any sort of threat. Things could change, however, if the NBA moves to more mass-market pricing in future.

On the entertainment side, the likes of HBO and Showtime have launched their own apps, allowing people to access their content without the need to subscribe to a pay TV channel. All they need is some sort of access to the internet. They all remain geo-blocked, and the pricing is pushing it today (HBO Now costs US$19.99/month, but again it represents a future threat to the likes of Sky if they move to a more global model.


Here, NZ Rugby has dipped its toes in the water by putting a limited number of second-tier games on All Blacks TV.

All Blacks TV is produced in partnership with Sky TV, but it's notable that Sky gets no badging on the site. It's possible that NZ Rugby is starting to appreciate its power.