Nothing New to Replace NatGeo

Sky will not be replacing National Geographic with a new HD service but hopefully the bandwidth that’s freed up will be used to improve picture quality on other channels.

“Our team will allocate that to its best use,” a Sky spokesperson says. “We don’t have any channel announcements at this time.”

NatGeo fades to black on Friday following Disney’s decision to discontinue the service on Sky. Fans of the channel will have to subscribe to Disney+ to stream new NatGeo content.

The loss of the channel coincides with the problematic launch of the Sky Pod, initially to Vodafone TV customers, controversy over Sky’s decision to outsource customer service calls, and the pending roll-out of the new Sky Box (for which there still isn’t a timeline because of the Sky Pod’s priority).

The Spinoff’s Duncan Grieve this week revealed Sky’s new streaming device has one major snag: TVNZ 1 and TVNZ 2 aren’t in the electronic programming guide because of a “high-stakes stare down” between Sky and TVNZ:

This means that unless there is a dramatic intervention this week, the Sky Pod will be the first Sky device in decades to launch without the major TVNZ channels in slots one and two. It’s a situation that has the potential to significantly damage both organisations, with Sky’s new product debuting without two of the biggest channels by viewership in the country, while if it’s a hit, TVNZ could potentially lose tens of thousands of potential viewers for its linear channels, which remain by far its biggest revenue drivers …

It can be viewed as a high-stakes game of chicken between Sky and TVNZ. The Sky Pod system defaults to linear TV, which means the first channel you encounter is no longer TVNZ1, but Three. The inertia of the legacy TVNZ audience has always been a big advantage – if the Sky Pod takes off, its absence could potentially erode some of that power. However TVNZ might view its audience as so big and consequential that its absence could render the EPG and potentially even the product itself less useful out of the gate, further entrenching some of its digital advantage …

It all adds up to a sense that the market is accelerating and getting more chaotic – and that this small dispute foreshadows more consequential battles to come. The official end of Vodafone TV is not until March 31, meaning there are still a few days for a resolution to be found. But no side seems in any mood to budge, meaning the principle of maximal distribution that has underpinned free-to-air for decades suddenly seems a little shaky. It’s a small but meaningful change that could escalate into a far bigger battle if cooler heads don’t prevail.

And earlier this month The Spinoff’s Chris Schulz got his hands on the new Box for a test run:

After a career casually reviewing tech products and gadgets for various media outlets, I can say this: the Sky Box is the first time I’ve ever trialled a device that you can’t walk into a shop, purchase, take home and set up. There are no firm deadlines on when everyone who wants the new Sky Box will get one.

Clearly, after months of delays, and significant extra expenses, the launch has been well and truly bungled. After two weeks with my Sky Box, it still doesn’t feel ready for release … The hardware seems to be in place, it’s just the software that needs to be sorted. In time that can, and probably will, happen.

Meanwhile, the NZ Herald’s Gregor Paul is running an excellent three-part series on rugby’s streaming wars, part two of which was posted today. It investigates the major players post-Spark Sport’s demise, and the challenges NZ Rugby faces to maximise revenue from its brand:

Rugby is booming in popularity around the world, particularly in Europe where the Six Nations has caught the imagination of fans. With the World Cup being hosted in France later this year, the sport is likely to enjoy the sort of global audience numbers it has previously never seen at a time when big broadcast players such as Amazon, Disney are looking to snaffle live sports rights.

But the difficulties of owning a major, global sports brand which is based in a relatively tiny country will forever challenge NZR’s ability to maximise the value of the All Blacks through a broadcast deal …

NZR has gambled everything on Silver Lake being able to mastermind a massive uplift in broadcast income – a prospect that certainly looked more likely at the time when the deal was signed, and Spark Sport was a player and global recession wasn’t biting.

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