Don’t grab your Sky remote on Thursday for the live broadcast of the naming of the All Blacks squad to face the Lions over the next month.

In the first sign of a slight divergence between New Zealand Rugby and its multi-million dollar broadcast partner, Sky is believed to have declined the right to cover the naming – and instead it will be streamed on the All Blacks’ Facebook page to a potential social audience of 4.3 million and

The team naming used to be a ritualistic event, a must-listen on radio that turned into a television event and instant analysis in the Sky era.

It’s understood Sky’s decision to pass on the setpiece team-naming led NZ Rugby to engage an independent video and web company to produce the announcement – the contractor declining to comment today.

The @AllBlacks twitter account today urged fans to watch the announcement on their Facebook page and own website at noon on Thursday. At that time, Sky Sport 1 will be playing a netball highlights package and Sky Sports 4 and the Rugby Channel will run a Lions v Blues replay and episode of Rugby Nation.

While Sky’s executives may have considered the naming a lot of effort for not much gain, the decision not to handle it is said to have surprised NZR chiefs. The call carries little short-term risk for Sky, which has broadcast rights sewn up until 2021, but it does give NZ Rugby the chance to experiment without the Sky audience. Ultimately, the All Blacks’ matches are likely to appear on some form of NZ Rugby digital channels direct to fans, and Sky as the middleman could miss out.

Those who manage what is arguably New Zealand’s biggest global brand will be weighing their options post 2021 when the current Sky deal to broadcast international and Super Rugby runs out.

Businessdesk reported at the time of the last signing in 2015 that Sky’s previous investment in broadcast equipment meant it was the only entity able to offer comprehensive coverage of New Zealand rugby, including everything from international tests to school sports.

The team-naming broadcast is thought to be a rare setpiece opportunity where the partners have not worked together. Another sponsor, Vodafone, announced that for this Lions series it would create a special app for fans to use in the grounds to replay or highlight passages of play. But Sky and Vodafone are close partners, and are appealing a Commerce Commission decision not to approve their application to merge, so that app may not be considered a competitor by Sky.

One observer said: “This is the first sign of a fraying in what has been a really tight broadcast relationship. No one can believe Sky wouldn’t do it.”

But Sky’s director of communications Kirsty Way said:

“We’ve opted not to take this announcement. Given the time of day we expect eyeballs on and other media sites. We do take some announcements especially in the evenings – and the NZR are familiar with how we tend to operate, what works at what time, on what media.”

NZ Rugby’s chief commercial officer Nick Brown said NZR would live stream the announcement on, which it had done for previous squad namings. Sky had the option to run announcements live as well but sometimes might not.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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