US tech giant Amazon’s Prime video on demand service is well into production on an in-depth documentary series which studies the All Blacks and their status as “the winningest team in the history of sports”. The deal is New Zealand Rugby’s first with a major international pay streaming platform, and will see an intimate eight part portrait of the team released early in 2018, to a potential audience in the hundreds of millions in over 200 countries.
NZ Rugby CEO Steve Tew said the series would be “a documentary about why the All Blacks have been very successful over a long period of time,” and be made on “a level we’ve never seen before.” It includes the recent Lions series, and will continue shooting through this season.
Tew would not be drawn on the commercial terms of the deal, characterising it as predominantly motivated by the scale of the international audience to which it introduces the team. “The relationship we have in place is one that’s of significant benefit to New Zealand rugby,” he said, while adding that “there is a commercial element too, and we’re very comfortable with the level of investment.”
The most intriguing thread to the deal from a local media perspective is what it indicates about NZ Rugby’s openness to streaming platforms in general. Despite online distribution through Rugby Pass in Asia and a small experiment with YouTube, for over two decades and the entire professional era the organisation has had an tight relationship with Sky television in New Zealand, one which has provided the bulk of operating revenues and underpinned rugby’s growth into the commercial giant it is today. When pressed, though, Tew was at pains to frame this as of no relevance to the core game product, which remains with Sky through the end of 2019.
“This is not about any streaming rights,” says Tew. “This is simply a documentary. It’s important to make it clear that our relationship with Sky has aided this documentary considerably.” That has included the provision of in-game footage to the documentary makers – Warner Brothers NZ and Mother Media Group.
For Amazon it brings another major sporting documentary to follow All or Nothing, their Emmy-winning series following the LA Rams, and more content in a category which has found both popular and critical acclaim in recent years after being popularised by ESPN’s ‘30 for 30’ brand.
“The All Blacks are the winningest team in the history of team sports with an 84 percent winning record over the last 130 years,” says Amazon Originals’ head of unscripted Conrad Riggs. “This series will provide Prime members a glimpse into what makes them so successful and what it means to undertake the responsibility of donning the Black Jersey and performing the sacred Haka.
“The story of the All Blacks is also the story of New Zealand. The team is not only a source of pride, but a barometer of the national mood, with a strong cultural connection to the nation, its people and its heritage,” said Riggs in a statement.
The deal demonstrates the continued primacy of the All Blacks brand and, thanks to the ongoing AIG partnership, the strength of NZ Rugby’s financial position. This new content partnership enables NZ Rugby to test the water on international streaming in a contained environment, while they assess how to work the next rights deal. Sports rights values have been exploding lately, while internationally the trend has been for rights to be either carved up amongst multiple parties, or for sports organisations to deliver their own products online through an subscription media platform of their own.
However it plays out, the deal is a significant one for NZ Rugby. What it means for its longtime New Zealand broadcast partner remains to be seen.