The arrival of television
The first live television involving a New Zealand sports team was in 1954 when an All Blacks’ game at Twickenham, London, was telecast throughout Great Britain. Television did not begin in New Zealand until the early 1960s. The first All Blacks’ test at home to be covered in full was New Zealand playing Australia in Dunedin in 1962. The commentator was Charles Martin. It was recorded on videotape and replayed on television the next afternoon.
Live or delayed?
The New Zealand Rugby Football Union had an early policy of not allowing live television broadcasts. It was believed such coverage would affect match-day gate-takings.
This controversial policy remained until 1972, when the third test against Australia at Eden Park became the first live telecast of an All Black test. The commentator was Bill McCarthy (no relation to Winston).
Overseas and satellite television
In the late 1960s sports broadcasters began to put commentary over video coverage of offshore rugby tests and Olympic or Commonwealth Games. The first TV commentator to travel full-time with a major New Zealand sports team was David (‘Doc’) Williams of Wellington, who toured South Africa with the All Blacks in 1970. While Williams provided film coverage of provincial matches, he was able, via an outside broadcast unit which travelled from Rhodesia, to secure and send home on videotape full match coverage of the tests. The video played on New Zealand TV up to a week after the actual event.
Keeping it in the family
Doc Williams, the pioneering NZBC television commentator to South Africa in 1970, was the son of Charles Williams, who had broadcast radio coverage of test matches in New Zealand before the Second World War.
The first offshore sports event to be broadcast live in New Zealand via satellite was the All Blacks rugby test against Wales, from Cardiff in 1972. The coverage was entirely from the BBC. In 1974 the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC) began to send New Zealand broadcasters to cover All Black tests. Keith Quinn was the first commentator to tour Australia and Keith McEwen toured Ireland later that same year. Subsequently sending New Zealand commentators and production crew on All Black tours became a regular practice.
1974 Commonwealth Games
The 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch was significant because for the first time much of New Zealand’s coverage was in full colour. For the event the NZBC had purchased a new fully colour-capable outside broadcast van. This provided colour images from athletics and swimming events, though other sports, such as weightlifting, were still covered in black-and-white.
By the mid-1990s the television rights to All Black rugby matches and a number of significant other major sports had moved from the state-owned Television New Zealand (TVNZ, its name changed from NZBC) to the privately owned Sky. This led to a huge change in New Zealand sports viewing habits.
Part of the game
By the 2000s television coverage of major sports, especially rugby and cricket, had become part of the officiating process. In cricket umpires (and in some cases captains) could refer to a third umpire to call a decision. In rugby the TMO (television match official) could be asked by the referee to judge on the legitimacy of tries.
In 2013 Sky subscribers were offered a total of eight sports channels, comprising Sky's own four general channels and a rugby channel, plus ESPN, and two racing channels (TAB TV and Trackside). Sports coverage on the previously powerful TVNZ was mainly of less popular codes. TV3 and Māori Television sports coverage was also limited.
Sky TV also won exclusive television rights to Super 15 and ITM Cup rugby coverage and all All Black test and tour matches, plus many other events such as the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, the Silver Ferns and Trans-Tasman netball, NRL rugby league, New Zealand domestic cricket, international cricket played in New Zealand and English Premier League football. Sky was the host broadcaster for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.