Sky sells free-to-air coverage rights to Prime

Kiwis’ love for the game of Rugby Union borders on religion, but a shift in TV rights has fans worried that they will be shut out of church.

News Corp.-controlled paybox Sky Television, which has live broadcast rights to the National Provincial Championship and the Rugby Super 14 professional circuit, said Monday it had sold the rights to broadcast delayed free-to-air coverage to fourth-ranked web Prime Television.

The move has angered CanWest MediaWorks-owned TV3, which has had the rights for three years — but many saw it as inevitable after Sky announced Dec. 3 that it was buying Prime, subject to approval by Kiwi regulator the Commerce Commission.

Sky claims Prime reaches 91% of the country. However, CanWest insists Prime’s reach is closer to 75% and up to a million people will miss the national game.

Meanwhile, TV3 announced Friday it had won free-to-air rights to the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France and Britain.

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