TVNZ in a scrum over rugby

Value of sports rights has plummeted since '96

AUCKLAND — Programming execs from pubcaster TVNZ will have checkbooks in hand to snap up standout shows at the L.A. Screenings, which kicks off May 16.

But they will also be mindful of an $11.5 million sports rights time bomb back home that will trim their budgets for new product.

The pubcaster wants to reduce the fiscal hit from buying exclusive live coverage of the Rugby World Cup, being played in Australia for five weeks during October and November.

Execs say the time bomb has been ticking since the deal was negotiated in 1996: The value of sports rights has plummeted in the past few years, and there is no way advertising can recover the cost of the games, even in rugby-mad New Zealand.

TVNZ CEO Ian Fraser won’t say what is being trimmed, but cuts are expected to run across the company and will be significant.

Fraser considers rugby an important part of its new cultural and social obligations after being shut out by Rupert Murdoch-backed satcaster Sky for most of the past decade.

Fraser said TVNZ profits in the year to June 30 will be $7 million-$9 million, but the rugby will drag down results for the 2003-4 financial year.

However, keeping a hand in the national game is not a bad thing. International games played in and around primetime are sure to be popular with Kiwi’s passionate rugby auds.

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