Us Kiwis are almost as mad about sports as we are about our TVs, and this hasn’t exactly escaped the attentions of the clever folks at Sky TV.
Targeting Kiwi sports addicts has been such a successful move for the Sky that they now count just under half of all NZ households (49.1%) as subscribers.
As great as that sounds, it also presents SkyTV with some pretty serious challenges.
Their subscriber base has stubbornly stayed at the 49-50% of households mark for several years. Adding even more complexity are the storm clouds gathering over broadcast TV as a growing number of viewers choose to get their TV fix from the net with Netflix soon to launch in NZ and a bunch of other online players are already live.
In short, the competitive landscape is tough for New Zealand broadcasters, and Sky’s sizeable market share means there’s a lot at stake.
So what is a broadcaster to do? Instead doing what so many broadcasters have done (hoping that the online TV model is a fad that will go away) Sky adopted one of my favourite sayings: “When it rains lemons, make lemonade.”
By this I mean that Sky have launched their Fan Pass online offering, aimed at Super Rugby, NRL and Formula1 fans it is available on Android and iOS smartphones/tablets, as well as PCs and Mac Airplay.
Fan Pass allows sports fans to watch a game/race or get highlights/replays even when they’re on the move. Best of all Fan Pass customers don’t have to be an existing SkyTV customer so they don’t need a Sky Decoder.
Video quality ranges from SD through to crispy HD depending on the connection speed and the screen of your device. You can also access stats as well as scores and breaking news (which can be disabled to avoid spoilers).
As great as this sounds, it isn’t cheap. Subscribing to a full season of sport comes in at a hefty $299. Sports fans can subscribe for a month ($49-$69 per sport) or on a weekly ($19.90 - $24.90) basis.
In use the iOS app proved pretty intuitive. Upcoming games are on the bottom half of the screen where you can also set reminders to watch. Using an iPhone 6+ over 4G I was able to get buttery smooth HD video that looked pretty decent. I’m also hoping Sky add Chromecast compatibility to a future update.
It isn't cheap, but Fan Pass works really well and is a clever move that also signals a fundamental shift for Sky TV.
Not only does it provide them with a means of reaching non Sky subscribers, but it also keeps Sky relevant to cord cutters who are avoiding satellite dish and set-top box complexities and going for what they see as a simpler, more flexible online option instead.
Being able to access the big match anywhere there’s mobile coverage or a reasonably speedy internet connection has to be a pretty compelling option (at least until the phone bill arrives).