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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

07 June 2019 - By Damian Funnell

It’s being streamed

The day I wrote this I also bought my Tournament Pass to watch the 2019 Rugby World Cup on Spark Sport. Now there’s something I never thought I’d say.

An old TV

On a cold spring morning back in 2015, while a few mates and I were waiting for the last RWC final to start, I successfully predicted that Japan 2019 would be livestreamed rather than broadcast live. My tech predictions are notoriously inaccurate, so I feel the need to boast about this one in print.

I did think at the time though, that it would be Amazon or Netflix that would be streaming the rugby, not Spark.

What I didn’t appreciate then was quite how pervasive streaming media would have become by 2019.

Around the time of the last Rugby World Cup I read that millennials watched more video online (ie, streamed content) than they did broadcast TV. This surprised me a bit, but little did I know that four years later none of us in our household would be watching broadcast TV at all.

We couldn’t if we wanted to. Analogue TV is long gone. We don’t have Sky or Freeview (they fell by the wayside a year or so ago) and we don’t seem to miss them one bit.

My youngest kids (7 and 9) don’t even know what broadcast TV is. Listening to the older kids (much more worldly at 11 and 12) explain what it meant to change channels was thoroughly entertaining. And utterly thought-provoking.

Generations of us grew up with broadcast television. Sure, we saw technological advancements during this time (colour TV, VCRs, flatscreens, set-top boxes, more channels, etc), but by and large TV was TV. We watched what someone else chose for us at a schedule that was outside of our control. To a certain extent, the choices made by faceless TV programmers shaped our society, or at least our conversations around the water cooler.

And then suddenly all of that is gone. All of the video consumed in the Funnell household is streamed over the internet when we want it. And to a seemingly endless number of screens (13 devices and counting).

The death of old tech – and birth of the new

With any disruptive technology there’s a tipping point where customers start flocking from old to new and the outgoing technology starts the long, irreversible march toward obsolescence.

It took CDs almost 10 years to become more popular than cassette tapes. It took another 10 years for cassettes to disappear altogether.

Similarly it took about 10 years (from the mid-1990s) for the DVD to overtake the VHS in popularity. Video stores (and physical media, for that matter) have all but disappeared now.

But the shift from cassette to CD and from VHS to DVD represented technological evolution, not a change in how we were doing things. Whether you were using a cassette or a CD, a VHS or a DVD, you were still pretty much doing the same thing and consuming the same media, just with varying degrees of quality. We saw these technologies coming and there was a long period of adoption before they displaced what came before them.

The move from broadcast TV to streaming is much more significant and has been much more rapid. We’re still consuming video via a screen with speakers, but suddenly we’re all on different screens, watching what we want and when we want it. The very nature of what we watch, how we watch it and the familial/social norms around consuming media are changing so quickly it’s almost a bit bewildering.

TV dinner anyone?

The idea of eating dinner in front of the TV suddenly became foreign, as there’s no scheduled event (the weekly screening of CHiPs when we were kids) to bring everyone together in front of the box. It’s now a challenge for me to get all of the kids off their individual screens into the lounge so we can watch a movie as a family.

I thought about this a lot when I bought my Tournament Pass. That and whether Spark are going to manage to stream the RWC without an ‘XT’-style meltdown.

I love streaming media and I find the idea of my dusty old DVD collection almost hilarious. But isn’t it amazing how quickly technology is changing our lives? Even when you work in IT it can sometimes seem a bit bewildering how fast things are moving and how our society is changing as a result.

I have no idea how or where I’ll be watching the 2023 RWC. Companies such as Spark Sports spend big money on broadcast/streaming rights because they see live content as being less susceptible to piracy, but in 2019 even tech novices could figure out how to stream live matches for free from one of many countries where they’ll be broadcast free to air. In four years’ time technology will make it even easier to do so, resulting in increased piracy and a reduction in how much we’re willing to spend to watch these events legitimately. What this will do to companies like Spark Sports is yet to be seen.

But this year, as we watch the mighty All Blacks attempt to make history with three in a row, streamed live over the internet from Japan, I’ll think back to how many of us were crammed into Mum’s lounge back in 1987 to watch the inaugural RWC final on her tiny 14” CRT TV. It was broadcast on TV1 – TV3 was still a couple of years from launch.

The technological differences between then and now are almost too much to comprehend. It sure is amazing how things change.

Hopefully, I’ll be with a bunch of mates with beer in hand. As much as things change, some things are meant to remain the same.


Damian Funnell damian.funnell@choicetechnology.co.nz is founder of Choice Technology, an IT services company, and  panaceahq.com, a cloud software company. He has a long-standing involvement with the legal services industry.

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Last updated on the 7th June 2019