Sky Sports a must have for many Spark customers

Simon Moutter returned his own Sky set-top box last month.
ROBERT CHARLES/FAIRFAX NZ

Simon Moutter returned his own Sky set-top box last month.

Spark has laid out its darkest fears about Sky Television's proposed merger with Vodafone while putting on a brave face about its competitive position.

In a second submission to the country's competition watchdog, Spark said that Sky Sports was a "must have" for a "substantial number of Spark customers".

If the merger went ahead, Sky/Vodafone would have an incentive to use its control of premium sports to force more consumers to buy broadband or mobile services from Vodafone, it said.

Spark says a Sky/Vodafone merger would create a "perpetuating cycle" tightening the merged firm's grip on key sports ...
DAVID GRAY/FAIRFAX NZ

Spark says a Sky/Vodafone merger would create a "perpetuating cycle" tightening the merged firm's grip on key sports beyond 2020.

Spark argued the benefits of "anti-competitive bundling" could create a "perpetuating cycle" that would allow Sky/Vodafone to retain the broadcasting rights to all the country's major premium sports ? rugby, league, netball and cricket ? when they next come up for renewal in 2019 and 2020.

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Sky TV has repeatedly downplayed such concerns, saying it would be in the merged firm's commercial interests to distribute Sky's programming through as many channels as possible because of the profit margin on pay-TV.

The Commerce Commission is due to rule on November 11 whether Britain's Vodafone should be allowed to merge its New Zealand business with Sky and take a 51 per cent stake in the combined firm.

Spark said it in its submission that it believed the commission "must at least have serious doubts" about Sky and Vodafone's assertion that the merger would not substantially lessen competition.

Sky Television is understood to have been seeking a wholesale deal with 2degrees, which industry insiders suggested could boost its chances of getting regulatory approval for the merger.

There has been no indication the commission intends to delay its decision or call a conference to discuss the merger's pros and cons, suggesting it may be heading for a quick "nay" or "yay".

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Spark managing director Simon Moutter has tweeted that he had saved his parents $630 a year by switching them from Sky Basic to Freeview and signing them up to Spark's Lightbox TV service.

Moutter's parents are understood not to be keen on watching sports and he described the change as a "no brainer". Moutter returned his own Sky set-top box in September.

Sky Television is due to hold its annual meeting in Auckland on Thursday afternoon.

 - Stuff

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