Rights stalemate threatens radio cricket commentary

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Just as the most anticipated test series of the summer gets under way cricket fans have been forced to contemplate the possible end of radio cricket commentary in New Zealand.

The media organization NZME, whose Radio Sport channel has held rights to broadcast commentary for 20 years, has been unable to agree a new deal with Cricket New Zealand. The current deal ends in April and, with no sign of renewed negotiations or other bidders, the future of cricket commentary is uncertain.

In a tweet NZME said "after lengthy discussions with New Zealand Cricket, we haven't been able to reach agreement.

"NZME has chosen not to renew the rights to broadcast live commentary of New Zealand Cricket's home internationals plus domestic games from next summer."

NZME head of talk Jason Winstanley told the New Zealand Herald "we have been in discussions with New Zealand Cricket for some time but haven't been able to reach agreement on the rights.

"Our cricket coverage has run at a loss, something we've previously been prepared to wear, but we're now taking the opportunity to rethink our offering in this space."

Media reports said NZME's offer for the rights fell well below New Zealand Cricket's expectations.

"NZC remains committed to bringing radio commentary to as many New Zealanders as possible and will therefore now go to the market to explore and investigate partnerships with other parties," NZC said in a statement."

New Zealand began the first test of a series against India on Friday. Many Kiwis choose to listen to radio commentary in their cars, in offices, when away from the television at home or in preference to the television commentary.

For decades cricket commentary has been the soundtrack of summer for sports-minded New Zealanders. Many people can recall what test matches they were listening to when they painted their houses or enjoyed a special holiday at the beach.

The threatened end of radio cricket commentary reflects a fast-changing sports broadcasting environment in New Zealand which may leave behind some older viewers, and listeners.

Last year the television rights to the Rugby World Cup were won by the telco Spark ahead of pay TV provider Sky Television, which holds the rights to all other rugby coverage. And earlier this year, New Zealand Cricket sold the rights to televise international matches played in New Zealand to Spark which will stream coverage on the internet.

Streaming is seen as the future of sports broadcasting but, in the short term in New Zealand, has resulted in a reduction in audience because some consumers can't afford multiple platforms, don't have adequate broadband or lack tech savvy.

With no radio networks currently showing interest in cricket, the rights will have to go to a web-based provider, if they are taken up at all. That likely will impact more on older consumers.

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