16 Apr 2018

Lessons from the Commonwealth Games ad-fest

4:22 pm on 16 April 2018

Opinion - With all the self-awareness of Sam Gaze, TVNZ chose today to trumpet their right to screen the Rugby World Cup next year - or at least part of it, anyway.

New Zealand's Samuel Gaze gestures in the transition area after suffering a puncture.

New Zealand's Samuel Gaze gestures in the transition area after suffering a puncture. Photo: Photosport

"The tournament is a major addition to our sport event line-up, and builds on our recent Commonwealth Games coverage," said TVNZ boss Kevin Kenrick, somehow oblivious that the last fortnight has seen them cop non-stop criticism of said coverage.

Which was, of course, countered by claims that ad breaks were the price that had to be paid for free-to-air sport. But while everyone knew that, we didn't know it'd also come at the expense of actually seeing some of the most important moments of the Games.

For rugby fans, it reached its nadir on the last day of competition. The thrilling women's final, followed by the unlikely but equally brilliant performance by the men, meant double gold in one of the showpiece events.

Not that we actually got to see the golden moment of them celebrating their victory, because as soon as the final whistle blew in the last game it was off to the 6pm news. In TVNZ's defence, the sevens schedule was running about half an hour behind by the time the finals rolled around. So the time was originally there to show the medal ceremonies, but inflexibility was the price we paid for screening sport on a channel dedicated to maintaining the broadcast lineup it has had for the last 58 years.

Of course, over at Sky TV they're probably laughing their heads off. For the past few years they've become as much of a negative narrative in the NZ media as property speculation or cycle lanes. Every headline about the pay TV service brought to light all manner of customer service faults, high prices and failure to plan for the new future of live streaming - so to have someone else get trashed all over social media would've felt like a nice change.

That's a legitimate feeling, too. For all of Sky's faults, the actual product they put out is so polished it took the clunky TVNZ version for many to figure out just how important the nuances of live coverage are.

Nuances like not cutting away to an ad break when the deciding moment of Hamish Bond's time trial happened. Or crossing to coverage of a non-NZ sevens match when the women's pole vault was in a crucial stage, even though the game was already being shown on another channel.

The lesson here is clear: People who don't know sport shouldn't be in charge of broadcasting sports events.

So what does this mean for the Rugby World Cup? Already there's a massive asterisk next to their 'coverage' - in that they're only showing seven games, which is akin to saying a bikini is coverage from getting sunburnt. Their deal clearly looks to cover the All Black games, as well as the opening match, but that's it. For serious fans, that's definitely not enough - but the app that Spark are putting out will cover the rest.

Rugby being the game that it is, it's unlikely that TVNZ will face the same sort of backlash that the Commonwealth Games ad-break-fest garnered. The established broadcasting guidelines dictate that halftime is the only break in play that you can squeeze in some commercials, because there are no other stoppages that are long enough. Besides, even the most clueless programmer would know just how irate the general population would get if they dared interrupt the flow of a live All Black game for an ad break.

The real onus here is on the advertising industry. They are, of course, the only people in the world who actually like ads - so they should be taking the opportunity to think of a better way to get their product message across. The TV ad break backlash does paint NZ as particularly quaint, especially as it came at exactly the same time that Facebook's cannibalisation of the internet is currently dominating the news.

It's an industry that seemingly prides itself on creativity, so how about we see a bit of that? Instead of the same old 15 and 30 second standard promos, try and surprise us. Then we might actually engage with what you're trying to sell, instead of complaining about it.

*Jamie Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the single highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game, and other topics, to anyone who'll care to listen.

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