Programmer’s Wrap 2014: Foxtel
Brian Walsh selects his top 10 shows for 2014, and hints at 2 new channels.
Foxtel has always been progressive on the technological front, from IQ to HD Channels, Foxtel Go and Foxtel Play offerings. This year there are several initiatives for existing subscribers and, as it faces new online players, more to entice new customers.
“I think 2014 will probably mark the most significant year in a long while for Foxtel to integrate, from a content and technology perspective, some major change to the market,” he says.
“When we launched the IQ that was such a game-changer for Foxtel and I feel the initiatives we’re launching this year will have that moment again where we shake the market in terms of consideration for television.”
Later this year Foxtel will offer its ‘Triple Play’ package of internet, phone and subscription TV, following discussions with its part-owner, Tesltra. By mid year it will roll out its new PVR, the IQ3 with nine tuners.
“Clearly the bundle triple play that will be launched later this year will be, I think as it has been for BSkyB in the UK, a really interesting proposition for market,” says Walsh.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of the research groups looking at how we’re going to change the whole dimension of the IQ3 box with a whole new interface and it will certainly liberate the Search mechanism for consumers in terms of discovery. I think that will be really dramatic.”
Streaming movies service Presto has been delayed from its original launch, late last year. But Walsh hopes it will still draw in new subscribers.
“The launch of Presto, while not purely a Foxtel product, will certainly put us into that space that internationally has been dominated by Netflix over the past 12-18 months. Presto will be an opportunity, again for people who don’t have Foxtel to have that On Demand experience with a wide selection of motion pictures, ” he said.
“Presto we expect to be in the first quarter.”
In addition to BBC First mid year, Walsh also hints at two new family-genre channels soon.
“The launch of BBC First and the change of BBC content in the Australian market from the ABC to Foxtel will clearly be a great moment for us, as I think will be the launch of 2 brand new channels that we’ll be announcing in the next couple of weeks. Those channels will launch at Easter, with details to be announced,” he says.
“The V-8s on FOX Sports, in the deal with TEN Network, will be a game changer for us when the V8s product comes across.”
The V8 deal begins in the summer of 2014-15.
When it comes to content, it’s an impossibility to cover it all, but Walsh has hand-picked his upcoming favourites -in no particular order. Sticking with 10 choices, he admits to being torn over leaving House of Cards out of the mix.
“Game of Thrones is unquestionably the biggest television series in the world and it’s important to Foxtel given that it’s Exclusive to Foxtel,” he says.
“Series 4 of Game of Thrones will be exclusive to Foxtel. It won’t be available on iTunes. And that hasn’t been the case for the last few series.
“It’s a big coup for us and we have a lot of ideas around the marketing of Thrones. Globally it’s a television sensation.
“I think having it exclusively in Australia on the Foxtel platform is indicative of the way we’re approaching a lot of our acquired content now. Our absolute desire is to increase our Subscriber numbers and exclusively acquiring Game of Thrones is important.”
“I’ve seen the first couple of episodes and Pamela Rabe is absolutely spell-binding as The Freak, Joan Ferguson,” he insists.
“The show dials up another notch for the second series.
“That will launch around Logies time on SoHo.”
I’m curious about how the show will juggle two potential villains in The Freak and Vera ‘Vinegar Tits’ Bennett?
“In the way we’ve constructed it, Joan becomes a mentor to Vera.”
Another local drama is psychological thriller The Devil’s Playground, set in the churches, schools and upper echelons of power in The Australian Catholic Church during the 1980s.
“The Devil’s Playground I think will be the show that creates a national conversation, in that it absolutely deals with a subject matter that is front page whilst the Royal Commission continues, and will continue throughout most of this year,” Walsh explains.
“The Catholic Church as I understand it will be the last of the institutions to be heard at the Royal Commission. “The Devil’s Playground centres around the Catholic Church in particular, the priests in Sydney in the late 1980s and how the church was divided between the conservative priests of old and the radical-thinking priests at a time when Vatican 2 was in place.
“It’s such a brilliantly-constructed series in that it deals with the politics within the church, it’s also a murder mystery, it’s a story of relationships, a story of broken men, scarred children and it has a real emotional heart at every level.
“It features some outstanding performances by some of our most notable actors including Jack Thompson, Toni Collete, Simon Burke, Don Hany, John Noble who gives an outstanding performance as Bishop McNally and Andrew McFarlane, who I think gives the performance of his career.
“It’s moving, heartbreaking and uncomfortable in some spots to watch. But it is absolutely real and relevant and an important piece of Australian storytelling.”
Inspired by actual events during the 1980s, it takes place many years after the setting of Fred Schepisi’s film.
“It loosely picks up the young character played by Simon Burke in the Fred Schepisi film. In that motion picture Tom was 11 years of age. In the television series we pick up Tom 40 years later where he is a psychologist who works for the Catholic Church and as a layman he is torn between his devotion to his faith and the need for justice.
“I’ve watched it all now and I think it’s a captivating piece of Australian drama. It will disturb some people but our ambition with Australian drama is to create provocative television, bold storytelling and distinctive drama that the commercial networks don’t necessarily produce.”
Josh Hartnett, Eva Green and Timothy Dalton star in the John Logan / Sam Mendes-produced drama Penny Dreadful, a horror drama set in Victorian London and features characters such as Frankenstein and Dracula.
Walsh says what he’s seen of the series indicates it is “highly erotic and very bloody!”
“I think Penny Dreadful is really exciting. It’s produced by CBS for Showtime in the UK. It’s all shot in London and some of the legendary characters who appear will give this concept great potential to run as an ongoing series. It’s a fresh piece of drama and the quality of the trailer and rushes I’ve seen look terrific. It’s beautifully shot, with strong performances and it will be for Showcase.”
“From people that I have shown it to, women absolutely love it. There are the ones that they are drawn to and the ones that they loathe. But everyone has an opinion. It’s territory that I think is interesting on Australian television. We’ve all had a dabble: The Shire, WAG Nation, Brynne Edelsten,” he notes.
“But the blueprint for this is based on the Bravo series and I’ve watched the series right through and it gets better and better. If you’re into it you will absolutely love it.
“It’s Eddie McGuire’s favourite new show. He’s rung me 3 times about it!
“I’m interested in how women in Melbourne will react.”
Naomi Campell, also highly-opinionated, fronts new Reality series, The Face Australia on FOX8 in March.
“Shine Australia have done an absolutely superb job in crafting a new piece of competition reality that takes the essence of Australia’s Next Top Model and dials it up with an international superstar at the helm. Naomi Campbell lives up to her reputation. She gives an amazing performance as one of the model mentors on the show.
“The two Australian girls cast with her, Nicole Trunfio and Cheyenne Tozzi , are just terrific. The ensemble works really well. It’s very different to Top Model in that all the contestants are working models. It’s beautifully shot, it has a lot of fire in it and the electricity in it reminds me of the early episodes of The Janice Dickinson Modelling Agency.
Walsh also highlights newcomers Coast Australia and River Cottage Australia, both back in second seasons.
“River Cottage Australia was our breakout hit of last year from the LifeStyle group and Paul West is a great discovery in terms of talent. I expect it to be an enduring franchise for LifeStyle and run for a few seasons,” he says.
“Tieing for equal ninth is The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and the Grammy Salute to The Beatles. If you saw McCartney and Ringo at the Grammys it was an amazing piece of television, and with the line-up I think it will be a memorable piece of television. Jimmy Fallon takes the reins from Jay Leno and The Tonight Show hasn’t been seen in Australia for some years. Fallon absolutely sits in the right environment on the Comedy Channel in Australia and it’s a great flagship show for us to have this year.
“Rounding it out is Cosmos on National Geographic in March. It’s one of those beautiful documentaries produced by National Geographic. I haven’t seen a lot of it but what I’ve seen looks magnificent and majestic. We all we’re captivated by Gravity and I think Cosmos is a wonderful piece of television.”
Of course there is plenty more with audience favourites, Selling Houses Australia, The Walking Dead, The Newsroom, Paddock to Plate, True Detective, Looking, Girls, AFL, NRL, VEEP, Revolution, Nashville, Chicago Fire, Hart of Dixie, Pretty Little Liars, The Crazy Ones, Live award shows and so much more.
As Walsh explains it, offering niche shows delivered as premium content helps create a point of difference from Free to Air broadcasters.
“We recognise that particularly the commercial networks here and their programming is focusing on competition reality in primetime,” he says.
“We’re running a subscription service so for us it’s all about reinforcing the value proposition of having a lot of programmes that suit niche audiences. That’s really what it all comes down to.
“In that vein, the combination of international content and our local commissions in 2014 are a very strong slate of programming that is exclusive and shown in high definition. We’re continuing to invest and secure our position as a real entertainment choice for Australians.”