You’re a self-confessed sports fan – what’s your poison?

I like rugby. The All Blacks, of course, but I also support the Manawatu Turbos, from when I lived there, and the Hurricanes, from my time in Wellington. And I’m in transition to a Blues allegiance, because of my five years in Auckland. With the soccer, I’m a Chelsea supporter (I used to live in London near their ground) so I like to keep up with the English Premier League. Plus, I watch a bit of cricket.

 

How does Saturday night look at home?

I’m the only sports fan in the house. That used to be a problem with broadcast TV. There would be a Super 15 rugby match on and either I watched and my wife and kids did something else, or I didn’t get to watch. Then, about 18 months ago, we switched from a Sky Sport broadcast subscription to FanPass.

 

Tell me about FanPass

It’s Sky’s online sports streaming service. Basically, you get access to Sky Sports channels for a day ($14.99), a week ($19.99) or a month ($55.99) without being a Sky subscriber. And you can watch on any device. At home, when I get dibs on the TV, I use the FanPass app on my phone and airplay the feed to Apple TV, plugged into the big screen. But if my wife or the kids are using the television, I can be on the couch with them watching sport on my laptop with head-phones.

 

$14.99 a day. Sounds expensive…

I tend to go in and out. If there’s an AB test series or Cricket World Cup, I might take a week or a month, then I won’t pay for a while. Over the space of a year, it actually works out a lot cheaper. These days, all television watching in our family is via the internet – FanPass, Netflix, Lightbox, YouTube and TVNZ/TV3 On Demand.

But you’re a self-professed nethead – are your viewing patterns typical?

I think consumers want to watch what they want to watch; do it when they want and on the device they choose. And they’re willing to pay for that. It’s been happening for a while with music – iTunes, Spotify – and it’s getting there with TV and movies. For example, Netflix is investing in its own original productions. Sport is still catching up, but there is some innovation.

 

How is sport catching up?

Both the Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Basketball League (NBA) in the US have developed paid match streaming services direct to their customers. American baseball fans, for example, can sign up to MLB.TV for US$130 a year. They get to watch live games, plus re-live old matches on a variety of devices. English soccer club channel Chelsea TV does the same thing.

Direct club-to-consumer content hasn’t really hit New Zealand yet, though the traditional model is changing. For two years, I got all my English Premier League soccer games through internet sports streaming with Coliseum, which has teamed up with Lightbox. Although this year they lost the live streaming rights, so it’s not clear if those matches will now be available.

 

Will we see NZRU.TV?

Who knows? Why wouldn’t New Zealand Rugby have an interest in maximising its revenue by having their product available to as many people as possible, on as many platforms as possible? The technology is there, and the market will follow what consumers want.

We are building the world’s best fibre network. It would be a bit absurd if we had the best motorway but no decent cars on it.

What’s in the pipeline for multi-screen sports action?

In theory, you could have a rugby game live on your TV and watch replays, or different camera angles, on your iPad. If you follow a particular player, you could have a player cam streamed to your smartphone. It’s not happening yet, but it’s possible. It just needs the content providers to work out how they can charge for it.

 

Does our vertically integrated content market disadvantage us when it comes to innovative content models and new technology?

I’m a technologist, so content rights are not my expertise. The technology is there, so it’s about the value chain and the relationship between content owners and content distributors. And, of course, what the market demands. I see no reason why New Zealand’s current market structure couldn’t deliver on this. We are building the world’s best fibre network. It would be a bit absurd if we had the best motorway but no decent cars on it.

 

What do you think is the most exciting international technology development  for watching sport?

Last year, British Telecom, which has the rights to stream some English Premier League football games, launched Europe’s first ultra high-definition live sports channel. Ultra HD (also called 4K) typically gives you four times as many pixels in one space on the screen as normal HD. Which means high definition colour and no blurry balls in fast-moving sports.

BT is delivering its service with VDSL fibre-to-the-node broadband technology, which is available to 80 percent of New Zealand households. So, we have everything we need to get Ultra HD sport here. Bring it on! Who wants blurry balls?

 

What about the future?

The next big wave of innovation is virtual reality and 360-degree video. It’s already starting in the US. NBA has already broadcast a game live in 360-degree video. What they do is they put a camera, with eight lenses on it, next to the court, then they stream the footage through the internet. People at home then put on a VR headset and it’s like you’ve got a front-row seat. The ball can bounce over your head and you can turn around and look at the crowd behind you.

 

Isn’t there a problem with people getting car sick with virtual reality video?

That’s to do with a technical issue called latency (delay or ‘ping time’). To avoid that, you have to use networks with incredibly low latency – less than five milliseconds. High-speed fibre broadband can provide that, no problem. In fact, I foresee VR being the driver for gigabit fibre.

 

Are you excited, as a sports fan – and a nethead?

I believe sport is going to be one of the segments that gets disrupted the most as virtual reality and 360-degree video matures. Fox Sports talks about being able to teleport into a number of camera positions on the field, to give you your own view of a game. So, you’d have various 360-degree cameras in different front-row seats on the pitch, and at home you could switch between them. The cameras can also be mounted above the pitch, or on drones. So, you will be able to experience fully immersive sports. I can see rugby fans absolutely loving that. 

 

Kurt Rodgers’ official title is Network Technology Strategist for Chorus. Which is an official way of saying he’s a nethead – someone who knows a lot about internet technologies and how they are going to change our future.