Aussies' World Cup woes raise fears over Spark rugby coverage

Rugby fans on this side of the Tasman are watching nervously, as Aussies struggle to follow the Football World Cup through telecommunications provider Optus.

The situation became so dire overnight, free-to-air channel SBS has stepped in to screen games over the next two days to ensure quality of service.

Optus Sport holds exclusive rights to the tournament in Australia, but has been plagued by connection issues, dropouts and other faults over the opening week.

Fast forward 15 months, could this debacle be repeated in New Zealand, where Spark is the principal rights holder for the 2019 Rugby World Cup?

"It's obviously a warning for anyone using that kind of medium for broadcasting events that are going to be very popular," admits NZ Rugby chief executive Steve Tew.

"We're already talking to Spark and they're very aware of it too. There will also be games on free-to-air.

"It is an issue, but as the technology improves, it will become less of a problem. We have to make sure it's right for the Rugby World Cup - there are a lot of people very aware of that."

Spark is certainly following the Optus saga with great interest, eager to learn lessons from the mistakes of their trans-Tasman counterparts.

"Obviously we don't know everything that's happened over there, but we will take any learnings that we can," confirms Spark senior communications partner Lucy Fullarton.

"We have links with telcos all over the world and if we can take learnings from it, we will, depending on whether the situation is relevant.

"Online streaming is used all over the world and we will be using the best technology available in a way that works for New Zealanders."

No doubt, Optus promised that same service when it won the Football World Cup rights in Australia. The most common mistake streamers make is underestimating viewer demand and the ability of their platforms to handle that load. 

Optus insists it invested heavily in the technology, but was still caught off-guard by the demand from Aussie football fans.

"We absolutely put a lot of investment into ensuring that we can deliver the best possible experience," says Optus vice president of regulation and public affairs Andrew Sheridan.

"I can absolutely guarantee that we did not under-cater in any shape or form." 

But it was still totally unprepared for the number of Australians tuning in for Friday's Egypt vs Uruguay match - the first World Cup match in decades not screened on SBS.

"We thought we were ready, but the simultaneous volume was much greater than we had anticipated," says Sheridan.

It also underestimated how late viewers would sign up for the service. The torrent of latecomers caused some viewers to lose their connections to the live stream, forcing them to log in again.

Social media isn't the only forum blowing up over the shortcomings, with politicians also weighing in on the debacle.

"All platforms have the obligation to deliver to consumers the product that consumers purchase," says Australian Communications Minister Mitch Fifield. "The onus is absolutely on Optus to deliver to consumers, to their customers that which they've undertaken to deliver."

The SBS compromise followed a personal call from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Optus chief executive Allen Lew, urging him to fix the problem.


Contact Newshub with your story tips: