Rugby World Cup 2019: Streaming issue never came up in testing - Spark Sport

Spark Sport claims it had no idea about the flaw in its sports streaming service which ruined fans' viewing of the All Blacks' first Rugby World Cup match on Saturday night. 

After a near-flawless launch for Friday night's Russia vs Japan match, it all turned to custard on Saturday as Kiwi fans logged into the internet-based service en masse to watch the All Blacks take on South Africa.

Spark ended up deploying its back-up plan and putting the second half of the match on free-to-air TV.

"Most of our customers got a good service, however I do recognise there are a number of customers who didn't," Spark Sport CEO Jolie Hodson told The AM Show on Monday morning. "Which is why we always had the back-up plan about the ability to shift over to free-to-air."

Whilst speculation centred on the doubling of demand between Friday and Saturday's matches, Spark eventually piled the blame on its US-based streaming partner. Hodson said capacity wasn't a problem - somehow the "configuration" of the live stream coming from the US was changed.

"We have fixed that, yesterday, therefore [Sunday] night you saw the three games stream... well."

This is Spark's first go at live streaming sports events. Hodson said the system was well-tested before the tournament kicked off last week, but the configuration problem wasn't spotted.

"We didn't know of this issue, but we became aware of it once we reviewed the streaming... Now we've identified it, we've resolved it. It took a lot of work over 24 hours, with the international partner pretty much working across that 24/7, and we'll continue to monitor it."

Jolie Hodson.
Jolie Hodson. Photo credit: The AM Show

Technology commentator Paul Spain said New Zealand has "very good internet" now, and is backing Spark to succeed where previous rights holder SKY couldn't. 

"SKY have been bagged a lot in the past, particularly around new technologies... ultimately I think this will deliver good results for New Zealand."

But he suggested Spark shouldn't be so quick to blame others for the teething problems.

"The nature of the internet is such that different internet providers will connect to servers in different ways. Historically within the tech community, there has been some dissatisfaction around the way that Spark's network interconnects with other internet service providers."

Craig Young from the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand told Newshub on Monday morning fans should check their own gear is up to scratch before blaming Spark. Hodson echoed those words.

"Whenever there's a change in how people consume something or view something, that is going to require education... We've done a lot. We need to continue to do more."

Paul Spain.
Paul Spain. Photo credit: The AM Show

She said most calls to their care line were people asking for advice on how to set up their TVs, rather than complaints about streaming quality.

"I wouldn't say New Zealanders are luddites. I think it's just with any change we go through, we need help. So part of our role is to help people make that change."

Spark is offering refunds to disgrunted customers, who have a week to get their money back. Hodson said it's too early to tell how much the company will lose as a result. 

Spain said at the end of the day, fans do have other ways of watching the game if they don't trust Spark to deliver.

"I guess it's gonna be off to the pub or free-to-air for them."