Televised Sports Coverage in New Zealand: Between Global Capitalism and Cultural Citizenship

Peters, Rachel Genevieve
Hope, Wayne
Craig, Geoffrey
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis explores the political economy of New Zealand sports coverage, via public television, subscription-pay-TV and digital streaming, amidst the evolving tensions between global capitalism and cultural citizenship. The political economy of communications research approach considers televised sports from historical, political, economic, and socialcultural standpoints. Within this framework, document analyses, interviews, and case studies are undertaken. The latter comprises a selection of sports rights controversies that occurred from 1996. For each of these, political economy, and discourse analyses are combined to present a snapshot of New Zealand’s mediated sports culture at given points in time. In this context the tensions between global capitalism and cultural citizenship are identified.

This research also traces the commodification of televised sports rights by detailing the business practices of New Zealand’s longest standing pay-TV company, Sky TV. A historical overview of sports broadcasting, before the launch of Sky TV, documents the significance of free-to-air mediated sport. Pay-TV and sports rights are also placed within a wider ecology of global media and global capitalism in order to explain how pay-TV became entrenched in New Zealand’s media sport landscape. From the mid-1990s Sky TV became dominant as the media sports economy became more commercialised and transnational.

The research findings here show that market-based discourse was used to justify, or rationalise, the loss of sports from New Zealand’s free-to-air channels. Discourse opposed to the exclusive siphoning of sports, on the grounds of citizenship, was evident in vox pop news segments but had little credence elsewhere. Over time, the outrage around paying for live sport dissipated as it became the only viewing option available. While the 2011 Rugby World Cup news coverage re-emphasised free-to-air live sport as an expression of cultural citizenship, this came at the cost of a meritocratic free-to-air bidding process.

Finally, the thesis shows how new entrant digital streaming companies came to challenge the long-held dominance of Sky TV regarding sports rights. Consequently, copyright became more difficult to control with the advent of illegal streaming. News media coverage heralded digital streaming as an exciting development which would offer flexibility and choice to consumers. However, critical examination of these technologies was largely absent from coverage, despite the obvious, initial shortcomings of transmission. Digital streaming business models combine qualitative evidence of viewer engagement with audience metrics for live events. The central imperative is to capture and monetise audience attention. Yet for followers of sport this offers a fragmented, individualised experience and erases an important tenet of cultural citizenship: public access to live, mediated sports events.

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