2011 Rugby Wold Cup Broadcasting Rights

What an unusual country we live in. We have two broadcasting organisations which, while admittedly having different organisational structures and different objectives, are both non-private entities that are competing with one another to broadcast the 2011 Rugby World Cup. tvnz_logo

The rights are valuable. They will mean that whoever wins them will be able to sell the audiences of the coverage they provide to advertisers.

For this reason, the rights are tendered and the broadcaster who bids the most for them gets to screen the cup.

It sounds very straightforward, but it’s not. What happened was TVNZ and the other major FTA broadcasters put in a bid for the rights. Then MTS put in a bid that was substantially higher. It was able to do so because it used money on promise from Te Puni Kokiri, a funding body which is able to provide money for the purposes of strengthening relationships between Maori and Non-Maori.

community-8-MTS Logo on BLACK 720x576  In normal circumstances, that’s where the matter would have ended. Instead though, details of MTS’s bid were leaked from an un-named parliamentary source, to TVNZ, who was then able to make an offer over the top of MTS.

One reason why that information might have been leaked is because of hype. The only way the government can make money from the RWC is to sell tickets to games and attract tourism income from overseas. Ministers may have been led to believe that without the hype that only the likes of a major broadcaster would provide, there would be less interest in the Cup and less return on investment. maori-pitasharples

Another reason cited early on was coverage. There was a concern that if an MTS bid was successful, then they wouldn’t be a guarantee that 100% of television owners would be able to receive the broadcasts.

In my mind there are major flaws with both of these justifications. They oversimplify quite complex ideas unique to the media industries.

On the first count, you don’t need television to create hype. Television as an advertising medium is dying slowly. Sure, TVNZ would have been able to give itself free ads to promote its own coverage but fewer people are watching TV now that these ads are worth less than they used to be. MTS could run an effective digital, outdoor and print campaign and maybe targeted radio and generate the same amount as hype as TVNZ could have through the same channels. This money wouldn’t be wasted as MTS would more than be able to make back its investment from advertising revenue brought in from the RWC games.

The coverage argument is actually quite complicated. Yes, MTS doesn’t have blanket NZ wide coverage. But it should and one day it will.

Listen:

coleman5

There are two ways to receive a broadcast signal in this country. One way is analogue, that is, through and aerial. The other way is digital, that is, through a satellite dish. The analogue technology is on the way out. The government’s new digital platform – Freeview – is supposed to replace it. The government wants people to be on Freeview by 2015. That way they can switch off the antiquated analogue network and sell, or licence the frequencies for other things such as mobile TV.

Now, wouldn’t a great way to encourage switch over be to offer the RWC on Maori TV? Surely this would speed up the process of analogue switch off and hasten the sale or lease of the VHF and UHF frequency bands. Wouldn’t it?

As if all of this wasn’t enough, MTS has a lot more broadcast freedom than TVNZ has. Recently TVNZ has been told to act less like a public service broadcaster and more like a commercial organisation. This is one of the main reasons why TVNZ decided not to screen the Commonwealth Games and instead sell their broadcast rights to Sky. MTS, fortunately, doesn’t have the same directive, so it can screen coverage without having to work around schedules for news bulletins and the like.

Plus, TVNZ just plain doesn’t deserve the rights. It’s an incredibly poorly run broadcasting operation that refuses to accept advice on how to pull itself up out of its situation.

Anyway, just recently announced tonight was news that suggests that MTS will lead a joint bid for coverage across itself, TVNZ and TV3.

Let’s hope that these John Key and Pita Sharples can teach Jonathan Coleman a thing or two about the industry he’s supposed to govern as broadcasting minister.

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