The Rugby World Cup is doing New Zealand a big favour – whether the All Blacks win or not, it is accelerating viewing experiences that will change the way we watch sport and entertainment.
It's happening "big-time", according to Harvey Norman's national sales & marketing manager, Dan Robinson who says new, future-capable, smart TVs are "flying out the door" as Kiwis gear up for the RWC in Japan.
"It's going crazy," he says, "and the buying patterns are changing. We used to sell mostly 40-inch to 50-inch screens. Now 55-65 inches is the new No. 1 and we are seeing 75-inch and 82-inch sets bought every day – and the 82-inch is about $20,000."
Harvey Norman has seen one buyer part with $79,000 for one of their giant Samsung sets (98 inches) with 8K definition – one of four which recently saw the chain the subject of expressions of disbelief on social media that anyone would pay so much for a television.
But it's not just big-screen-desire and new technology driving this rush – it is also the Spark Sport-sparked move to stream the RWC over the internet, moving closer to an interactive sports and entertainment viewing experience.
This next big wave has been forecast for some time. Former Arsenal football manager Arsene Wenger predicted two years ago interactivity would become so powerful that fans may be able to influence or even direct substitutions by voting online through their TV sets.
That may be a further step in the future though there is one example happening in international sport right now – motor racing's Formula E circuit (the electric-powered single seaters featuring Kiwi driver Mitch Evans). Its FanBoost feature allows fans to vote for their favourite driver; the five who attract the most votes are awarded a significant boost of power, which they can exercise for five seconds during the second half of the race.
You can see, says Robinson, how that kind of interactivity is attractive not only to fans but to sports bodies who will seek to grow even closer to their audiences and to involve them more in their product, and those of sponsors.
"You can see how, maybe at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, interactive fans could vote for a player on the bench to be substituted on – and who they would want to come off. The All Blacks coaches may not take any notice of that but the wishes of the nation would be clear – and it's a process which binds the sport and the fans closer together."
Other examples close to reality are fans acting like TV directors to change camera angles, plus layering in features like merchandising, chatting or even in-stream sports betting during a sportscast.
It's a logical step if the streaming phenomenon which has seen Netflix become a household name around the globe continues – and it looks increasingly certain it will.
Other big content providers like Disney, Warner Media, Apple, YouTube and others are gearing up their own streaming platforms, sometimes retrieving their content from Netflix (Warner is taking the hit series Friends away from Netflix in the US next year) to compete directly with them.
Robinson says the move from traditional broadcasters to streaming is happening because streaming fits better with people's busy lives: "Traditional broadcasting controls your viewing experience; with streaming, you control it – you choose when you watch and how much you watch at one time. It totally complements peoples' lifestyles."
Nor is it just sport which will attract interactivity. Netflix last year produced an episode of Black Mirror called Bandersnatch. It allowed viewers, using their remotes, to do everything from choose what the hero has for breakfast to controlling the narrative.
Bandersnatch had five different endings, depending on what action fans decided upon for the hero; Netflix found many viewers stayed online and watched all five, an obvious boost for the content provider and potential advertisers.
"I've watched a Bear Grylls show on Netflix with my kids," says Robinson. "It gave you choices like whether he would jump off a cliff or parasail down – and the story changes according to what you pick."
According to New Zealand On Air's research last year, streaming reaches 62 per cent of Kiwis each week, up from 12 per cent in 2015. Traditional TV is still king, reaching 82 per cent but that figure has been declining for each of the last five years, from 95 per cent in 2014.
The urgency of watching the Rugby World Cup live is driving TV sales right now, though Robinson says Harvey Norman is seeing people becoming more aware of the need to future-proof themselves for the streaming (and interactivity) phenomena.
Robinson compares this current awakening to the boost that occurred in 2016 when reports from internet providers told of a 70 per cent increase in people signing up for unlimited data – right after Netflix's New Zealand launch. Now nearly 50 per cent of New Zealand homes have Netflix.
"The new generation smart TVs not only have Spark Sport's app on it, they have every app viewers will need…Netflix, Lightbox, Neon, Amazon Prime, TVNZ On Demand, YouTube, Sky Sport Now, Three Now, they're all there.
"And these TVs are set up with the future in mind – it's not like the 3D gimmick of a few years back. This is here to stay."
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