Sky Sport Now promises fans the ability to watch sport "whenever and wherever it suits". Does Sky deliver on its promise? And is it worth the money?
Sky TV's new sports streaming service has been a long time coming.
The newly launched Sky Sport Now marks the television company's first genuine – in terms of quality, anyway – entry into the sports streaming market, with previous versions relying on outdated technology and limited access to its satellite TV offering.
Sky was, and probably will continue to be for the foreseeable future, the king of live sport on traditional linear TV in New Zealand.
But in recent times, Sky has verged on alienating an entire generation of sports fans by failing to adapt to the changing technological landscape and its ever-evolving customer habits.
The new sports streaming service, a revamp of its previous version, Fan Pass, suggests Sky is wanting to change that "old media" perception and go toe-to-toe with Spark in the increasingly popular, and competitive, world of online video and subscription video on-demand.
Sky promises to deliver sport "whenever and wherever it suits", which was echoed by its new chief executive Martin Stewart in the initial announcement.
"Sports fans are increasingly mobile, and often time poor," said Stewart. "Young fans in particular are looking for a range of experiences. Sky Sport Now is one way we can make sport more accessible, exciting and appealing."
Does Sky deliver on its promise? Here are some initial impressions:
Sky boasts an embarrassment of New Zealand sports content. And its new streaming service – on its initial release – offers an impressive mixture of live sport, archived highlights and full replays, as well as a section called "features" with a selection of Sky's original content like documentaries and TV shows.
Its full lineup of 12 sports channels is available in HD (with the ability to pause and rewind live), while a few of its original documentaries like the three-part Warriors doco Keeping the Faith are available to stream on-demand.
Its "great new stats section" however, is merely a fixture list, results and a table leaderboard – a feature that doesn't add much at all.
Sky currently has the rights for most of New Zealand's major sporting codes like rugby (including Super Rugby and All Blacks tests), netball (ANZ Premiership, Silver Ferns tests), cricket (IPL, Black Caps tests), and football (All Whites games, A-League, Champions League) as well as live coverage of American sports through ESPN.
Its major – and only – streaming rival Spark Sport doesn't have nearly as large of a sports portfolio, but holds the rights to vastly popular competitions like the English Premier League, Formula One, and most notably, the Rugby World Cup which starts in September.
The streaming service, which launched yesterday, has a relatively reasonable price point at $19.99 for a week pass, $49.99 for a month pass, and $39.99 a month for a year pass.
It's still a lot to fork out every month – especially for fans who may also be tempted by Spark Sport's cheaper $19.99 a month service – but it's certainly a much more affordable and flexible alternative to Sky's traditional satellite TV sports package. (It's worth noting that Spark Sport's Rugby World Cup pass is separate from its regular $19.99 a month service.)
Spark, which delivers a more specialised selection of sports, is targeting the dedicated and loyal fan bases of competitions like the Premier League and Formula One, while Sky seems to be offering a more wide ranging, one-size-fits-all approach thanks to decades of being a virtual monopoly in the industry.
The most striking improvement from Sky's past online streaming services is live TV – which is a lot more seamless and user friendly, and has significantly better picture quality (up to 1080p50).
Sky has also finally ditched its antiquated Flash-based platform it has used in the past for an updated player by streaming company Endeavor which runs smoother and, you know, actually works – but still isn't as quick, aesthetically pleasing or intuitive as some other streaming services.
The experience on computers feels very much like traditional live television and watching it on actual TVs is pretty easy too – which with ultra-fast broadband, offers an experience similar to satellite TV when streamed through TV apps like Chromecast.
The mobile app is available on most new smartphone models, but the service can also be accessed through mobile browsers on older phones.
There were some minor teething issues, with a 2degrees customer tweeting that they received a "Geo Blocked" message when they tried to access the app after it went live yesterday morning.
A Sky spokesperson told the Herald via an email statement that they received "two isolated complains" about the issue yesterday "which have been resolved".
"Overall, we're delighted with the rollout of Sky Sport Now and we have received positive feedback from our customers on our social media so far," the spokesperson added.
As rival Spark Sport found out during the first weekend of the English Premier League, many things can go wrong when delivering content via the internet, especially when it's live.
Sky's new service will face its first test of a major live event on Saturday when the All Blacks take on the Wallabies at Eden Park.
First impression review
After failing to offer a viable online option for years, Sky has finally given the people what they want: a more flexible and affordable option for the digital sports fan.
Sky's streaming service, which should get better and more fine-tuned with time, is a genuine substitute to its satellite TV service, especially for tech-savvy fans with access to ultra-fast broadband who are looking for a more mobile experience without the complicated contracts and clunky components of its predecessor.
How it deals with live sport under high traffic, which both Sky and competitor Spark has had issues with in the past, will be an important factor in the public's willingness to jump on board.