‘Pretty disastrous’: Marketing expert on the damage to the Spark brand

Spark Sport pixelation marketing

A marketing expert has described Spark’s failure to deliver a successful stream last night as “pretty disastrous” for the company.

Ben Goodale, who has spent decades in the marketing industry, told the Herald Spark’s failure to deliver a stream for the full match between the All Blacks and South Africa was an own goal for the company.

“You just have to look at the Twitter feeds, the press and also people just talking to each other. None of it is good for Spark,” he said.

“The thing that also struck me is that it’s on the front page of the Guardian online. It’s made international news. ‘New Zealanders vent anger at being unable to watch Rugby World Cup’ is on the Guardian. Their failure has made international news.”

Goodale says the hit will be particularly hard given Spark has spent tens of millions rebranding to move the company away from the legacy of the Telecom brand – as well as hedging a huge bet on Spark sport.

While Spark’s backup plan may have worked, it was also a case of a company presenting itself as the future of broadcasting relying on a traditional channel to get the job done. What’s more, the experience via traditional broadcast was superior.

“When they switched to Duke in the second half, the picture was so much better,” Goodale says.

“When we were getting the feed delivered via satellite, the picture was perfect. When it was delivered via broadband, it wasn’t perfect. As a consumer, what conclusion am I supposed to draw from that?”

Goodale also doesn’t buy the fact that the issues are limited to rural viewers, saying that his experience in Auckland’s Titirangi was average at best.

“I splashed out on the Rugby Pass and then proceeded to have fuzzy picture every few minutes and the feed blanking out,” he says.

“A lot of people there would have been working hard to make it work, but it’s a sub-optimum product.”

Goodale did not believe that Spark’s failure would affect the trust New Zealanders have in streaming overall, explaining that Spark’s performance is essentially being measured against the other players in the market.

“The performance of services like Netflix and Amazon are influencing everyone’s perception of how poor the Spark option is. People don’t complain about the picture on those services,” he says.

“But as a sports fan, I know the picture on Spark Sport is not as good as it would be on Sky.”

Goodale says the point of technology is really to move things forward and improve the experience, but Spark simply hasn’t done that in this instance.

“You have to ask whether Spark really needs to be in this space when there have been operations like Sky doing it for a long time and do it really well.”

Spark’s response

Spark Sport spokesman Andrew Pirie told Radio Sport’s Jim Kayes this morning the streaming issues were “a failure on our part and we apologise to customers for that.”

Spark had been monitoring the quality of the video stream and could see it was starting to fluctuate midway through the first half of the game, Pirie said.

“That wasn’t acceptable and so we made an immediate call as quickly as possible and basically decided to start simulcasting the game on TVNZ Duke.”

He said the vast majority of customers had continued watching on Spark Sport. “But clearly it wasn’t good enough and we apologise for that.”

He also acknowledged a banner on the Spark Sport site advising customers of the switch to Duke had not gone up fast enough. Many customers have complained they didn’t know it was being screened live on Duke after the Spark issues.

Pirie said technical teams had been working overnight to identify what went wrong. “We believe the issue does lie within the international distribution network. And that’s how the video stream passes from our streaming platform…based in the United States through to our New Zealand providers.”

While the problem was happening offshore, it was Spark’s problem and the company was “owning” the issue.

Spark announced this afternoon that it would simulcast the games between Italy and Namibia, Ireland and Scotland, and England and Tonga free-to-air on TVNZ Duke.

The company also said that customers unhappy with yesterday’s service could request refunds.


This article was originally published in the New Zealand Herald, 22 Sep, 2019. Author Damien Venuto.