Spark and TVNZ have privately agreed on contingency plans in the event of a major malfunction of a Rugby World Cup broadcast by the telco provider – the most significant of which is the promise that the test will be shown on free-to-air television within five minutes of an outage.
Both organisations are working closely together seven months out from the first World Cup match in Japan after they won the broadcasting rights last year. Under the agreement, Spark will broadcast every match – at a cost to viewers – while TVNZ will show seven matches live, including the competition opener and final, plus several delayed games.
Due to Spark's inexperience in streaming live sports to a potentially huge audience and the failure of Australian telco Optus to satisfactorily broadcast last year's FIFA World Cup, the Weekend Herald understands that the "five-minute" pledge has been agreed in order to reassure the executives of Spark and TVNZ but also, potentially, rugby supporters in New Zealand.
TVNZ steered an inquiry to Spark, who replied via a spokeswoman: "We've previously said that we will have contingency in place for the Rugby World Cup – but we haven't yet announced what form this will take."
It's understood that little-publicised TVNZ channel Duke will be on standby in the event of an emergency, but that if it is an All Black game involved it would probably go straight on to TV1.
Spark have previously reassured Kiwi rugby fans that they will not face similar difficulties to Optus' customers, who were dismayed last year when football World Cup games were constantly disrupted by frozen screens, buffering, service interruptions and error messages.
Optus announced that all games would be simulcast on free-to-air SBS for two days as they worked on solutions, and Spark managing director Simon Moutter said his organisation had learned some important lessons.
"The little silver lining for Spark in the cloud that Optus have confronted over the last few weeks is it's just given us a focal point to say 'don't take this lightly'," Moutter told Radio Sport in June.
Moutter added: "We're technology experts on this stuff and we've got plenty of practice with streaming.
"Remember, we were streaming EPL [English Premier League] several years ago and we're the owners and managers of Lightbox. So we have very clear experience with streaming."
The big unknown is what happens when tens of thousands of viewers tune into the Spark Rugby World Cup app at the same time.
Sky Television are now miles ahead of the competition in New Zealand in terms of broadcasting live sport but their Sky Go app has a history of being less than reliable when big numbers attempt to tune in at once, although they have made improvements to its reliability.
Other questions remain regarding TVNZ's pledge to swap out its regular broadcast for a Rugby World Cup match if needed, including who will be tasked with making that decision, and, for that matter, what is the threshold of complaints for a malfunction to be considered serious enough for that step. Is it an angry group of a dozen complainants on social media or must it be a total system failure?
Making the issue more complicated is the fact that many All Blacks fans in New Zealand are going to have to get to grips with the technology involved in connecting to wifi in order to watch every All Black game live. In some cases they will have to update their televisions.
A comprehensive education plan for armchair experts will be necessary in the build-up to a tournament in which the All Blacks will be seeking their third consecutive triumph while some might just be happy if the worst happens and they get to watch it for free.