Formula One may not be screened live in New Zealand

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Words: Nile Bijoux
8 Feb 2019

​When Spark Sport acquired the rights to broadcast the 2019 Formula 1 season, eyebrows were raised. After all, Sky TV had been broadcasting the racing for years and, generally, those years have been good, even if the racing hasn’t always been.

Come last year, however, and the contract to broadcast the pinnacle of four-wheeled racing went up for auction. In light of more European races, meaning later start times on this side of the world, and the numbers of watchers skydiving, Sky decided not to seek and extension to its contract and bidding rival Spark Sport won the rights.

Spark Sport had already secured the Rugby World Cup rights so F1 added another significant feather to its cap. Cue a cautious response from local racing fans.

Not many people have heard of Spark Sport. Can it deliver?

Fast forward to today, six weeks out from the F1 engines sparking into life again, and the question remains unanswered.

At this stage, Spark Sport may not even have a platform to broadcast on, which explains some the ominous silence from the firm.

Going to the SS homepage presents a high-res image of All Blacks tackling Australian rugby players, a form to fill out “for more information” and a few FAQs. One of which, “What devices can I watch on?” is answered thus:

“You will be able to enjoy Spark Sport on a range of devices, from mobile phones to big screen TVs. We will announce the initial list of supported devices closer to launch and these will expand over time.”

And another: “How do I find out more?”

The answer: “We can’t wait to share more details with you! Register your interest above.”

For a streaming service that’s aiming to provide content to hundreds of thousands of viewers, this lack of information isn’t a good sign. It’s only a bit over six months until the Rugby World Cup kicks off, and six weeks out until F1 is all go.

Contacting Lightbox, also owned by Spark, is no help since it is unrelated to the Sport division of Spark. What are the alternatives?

One can stream F1 via a laggy website with a bunch of unsavoury ads surrounding a low-res Formula 1 video, or pay for F1 TV Access, which allows you to watch sessions two weeks later.

As it stands, there’s no guarantee as yet that fans can view live F1 in New Zealand without resorting to dubious online streaming services. Spark Sport really needs to reassure the paying public that it is ready to debut a new platform and has worked out all the inevitable bugs and kinks regarding video quality, infrastructure and service in time for the first race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix on Mar 17.

New Zealand Autocar has reached out to Spark Sport for comment.

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