Why the success of Sky Sport's latest documentary Joseph Parker: Metamorphosis further emphasises Sky's failure.
"This is the mistakes I've made in the past," says Joseph Parker in the opening minutes of Joseph Parker: Metamorphosis, Sky's revealing documentary film which follows the Kiwi heavyweight's journey leading up to his title unification bout against Anthony Joshua. "You can't make these mistakes at this level. You have to be a different beast altogether."
Parker – in full focus, as stripped back as ever – is philosophising about the mistakes he's made, ones he will not be able to repeat while training for the biggest fight of his career. The kind that, if you're a professional heavyweight boxer, can leave you knocked out unconscious and on the canvas. Parker managed to avoid that fate – becoming the first boxer to go the distance against Joshua – but ultimately fell short in a unanimous decision loss to the British champ. We all know what happened.
Boxing fans, of course, won't be watching the documentary film for the result, but for its revelations – the story behind the story. This is the documentary's fundamental conceit: the never-before-seen moments leading up to the biggest fight in New Zealand history – brought to you by Sky's exclusive access, showcased exclusively on Sky Sport.
It is through Sky's cameras that we get to see Parker's close relationship with his brother, his passion for music (hip hop and R&B for the most part), and the dedication to his craft – to become the best boxer on the planet. Despite the almost suffocating media coverage of the fight, the documentary also manages to break news. As reported by the Herald last month, the documentary reveals that Parker's preparation for the fight was hindered by the news that his younger brother John was diagnosed with a potentially fatal brain condition. It is also through the same lens that we are reminded of Sky's very own mistakes – the ones that have left the media organisation in its most precarious position in years.
Metamorphosis, which first screened on Sky Sports on Monday, is the latest in a series of sports documentaries released by Sky, giving viewers an inside look at some of the country's beloved sports stars and teams. From the gritty, foulmouthed exploration of the Warriors' preseason, to a tribute to the career of rugby coach Wayne Smith, Sky seem to be making a conscious move towards original content. It is clearly where Sky's strengths lay, their unmatched, unprecedented access to the biggest names in New Zealand sport. Sky Sports also struck an exclusive deal with Amazon to screen their much-hyped six-part documentary All or Nothing: New Zealand All Blacks – although it will only air a few months after its initial release on Amazon Prime Video.
Previously, Sky's forays into original content have mainly been attempts – of mixed qualities and success – at sports talk TV shows, an increasingly dying format. Its latest experiment is New Zealand Press Box, a weekly "entertainment sport show" that puts several media traditionalists in a room to discuss sporting issues that usually happened days ago. When viewed within the context of Twitter and the 24 hour news cycle, the show is almost cartoonishly outdated.
It's yet another example of Sky choosing to ignore the changing times, instead doubling down on their traditional linear TV model. In May last year, a week out from the Lions tour, Sky almost doubled the price of its online sports service Fan Pass, in what looked like an attempt to strong-arm costumers into Sky's traditional pay TV option. Fast forward to just over a year and Sky have finally attempted to contend with the changing technological landscape with a completely revamped pricing structure and the announcement of several new online products. But like its recent foray into sports documentaries, it all feels too little too late.
In the age of spoilers and pop culture over-saturation, sport, particularly live sport, has become one of the most valuable commodities in the TV business. While industry heads scramble to find the next Game of Thrones – perhaps the last remaining mono-cultural behemoth to exist in our increasingly fragmented and niched times – live sport stands tall as the ready-made answer, the last of water cooler culture.
Earlier this year, Sky announced that it was not the preferred bidder for the 2019 Rugby World Cup rights, losing out to Spark and TVNZ. Since then, their long time CEO John Fellet also announced his retirement, potentially ushering a new era of Sky – one possibly without live sport. The upcoming battle for the SANZAAR rights in 2020 could prove crucial in their survival as a company.
All of which only makes their recent successes – namely these latest range of sports documentaries – a stark reminder of its own incompetence. Its success outside of the realm of live sport only underlines its loss of command of it. These excursions now feel a lot heavier, like Parker's desperate, weary haymakers in the dying stages of his 12-round marathon – a last-ditch roll of the dice in a bout likely to be lost.
Against Joshua, Parker only lost the battle. Sky, on the other hand, could be dangerously close to losing the war.