Spark Sport are shifting coverage of the All Blacks vs Springboks match to TVNZ after their streaming services failed for many viewers. 

Spark posted on Facebook: “A small percentage of our customers are experiencing streaming issues when watching the All Blacks v South Africa match on certain devices.

“In order to deliver a quality experience for all of our customers we will making the remainder of the match available immediately on TVNZ DUKE, Freeview channel 13 or Sky channel 23. We will continue to stream the match on Spark Sport. We apologise to those impacted.”

Frustrated rugby fans had taken to social media to vent their frustration at the quality of Spark Sport’s stream of the All Blacks Springboks Rugby World Cup clash.

Viewers in Wellington and Christchurch reported buffering, or frozen, screens.

Technology writer Peter Griffin wrote on Twitter: “Frequent drop outs with Spark Sport and first time I’ve had the indignity of seeing this…”

Frequent drop outs with Spark Sport and first time I’ve had the indignity of seeing this…

— Peter Griffin (@petergnz)

Others complained via Stuff’s live blog of the game.

Just before halftime, there were widespread reports that the match froze on devices, and the image quality plunged for a short time. 

Earlier, Spark Sport reported they had helped 10,000 customers with streaming queries.

The streaming service said 88,000 subscribers were watching at the end of Australia’s victory over Fiji.

Jae Hong/AP
The All Blacks perform a haka ahead of the Rugby World Cup Pool B game at International Stadium between New Zealand and South Africa in Yokohama.

Spark knew it was risking a few bruises when it won the rights to stream the Rugby World Cup.

Tens of thousands of homes don’t have good enough broadband to watch live sports online and Spark’s head of sport Jeff Latch warned last month that Spark could deliver perfectly but there might still be people who would be unhappy.

That might be because they left it late to sign up to its streaming service, did not have the best set-up in their house, and “did not bother to test and trial it”, he said.

In April there were concerns in the Beehive that the Government might share the blame if Spark’s service failed, with Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi revealing he had been receiving regular updates from Spark on its plans.

In June, Spark admitted an early slip-up when a software bug caused some people to be charged multiple times when they signed up to watch the tournament.

The fault left Auckland woman Donna Brown temporarily hundreds of dollars out of pocket and unimpressed.

But then there was the prize. 

Former chief executive Simon Moutter, who led the Spark’s charge into rugby, forecast in February that by driving down the price of sports-viewing, Spark could allow “potentially another million people” to watch sports “in a much more ‘choiceful’ manner”

There are more steps than might seem obvious getting footage from the RWC in Japan to Kiwi broadband users. 

As Spark put it during a technology presentation in July there are “a lot of moving parts”.

​Live footage of the RWC and commentary is first beamed via satellite to New Zealand, with a fibre-optic connection serving as a back-up.

That feed goes to TVNZ, which pulls together the production by providing the pre-match build-up and half-time and full-time analysis, and then on to the United States via the Southern Cross Cable under the Pacific ocean.

In the US, Spark’s key RWC technology partner, iStreamPlanet, encodes it to play across all the devices Spark Sport supports such as Android and Apple devices.

IStreamPlanet delivered 4.6 million simultaneous streams of the last US Super Bowl, so the demands of the RWC should be nothing unusual for the company.

Then the encoded video is sent to fellow US technology giant Akamai which distributes it to several “content delivery nodes” back in New Zealand from which viewers pull down the footage into their homes via their internet provider.   

Spark Sport has paid for Akamai to upgrade its New Zealand infrastructure to meet the expected demand, more than doubling its number of local content delivery servers.

The lag or “latency” between the events on the field in Japan and them being viewable online is about 30 to 40 seconds, with the video viewable at up to full HD resolution of 1080×1920 pixels with a fast refresh rate of up to 60 frames a second. 

Footage with English commentary can be sent directly from Japan to the US for streaming distribution in New Zealand as a back-up in case there are issues with TVNZ’s link in the chain.

Spark’s last resort, in case of problems with the streamed coverage, has been to switch live coverage to TVNZ’s Duke channel “within a few minutes”, cutting out all the processing in the US and reliance on local broadband.

Spark Sport operations head Rob Berrill warned in August that streaming the RWC was not something it could fully simulate.

“There is just not another compelling event that will draw in New Zealanders like the rugby world cup.”

But to minimise the chance of disruption, Chorus and Spark agreed not to make major upgrades or changes to their networks between September 16 and November 8, with a “complete maintenance black-out” in place during the games themselves.

Whether the RWC proves a commercial success for Spark is a separate question.

Speculation grew last month that Spark might not have persuaded as many sports fans to buy RWC passes as it hoped, when new chief executive Jolie Hodson made no comment on sales when delivering the company’s annual result.

Spark said that based on overseas experience, it expected 40 per cent of subscribers might sign up in the two weeks before tournament.

But spokesman Anaru Tuhi was giving no clues on Thursday whether a late surge on that scale had come to pass.

“As we’re still in a busy purchase period we’re not in a position to comment on trends as we’re still seeing purchasing come through and will evaluate in due course,” he said.

This content was originally published here.