Between Foxtel Now and a hard place
It's Foxtel's big dilemma: is it ready for programming without borders to truly compete with Streaming?
This week Foxtel unveiled its new-look streaming platform, Foxtel Now, ditching Foxtel Play in an on-going attempt to carve a bigger slice of the pie owned by Netflix and Stan.
It’s the Pay TV provider’s third bid in the market, notably including the demise of Presto which it shared with Seven West Media.
Foxtel is learning lots with each generation and has made some big improvements with Foxtel Now.
A $10 entry point is crucial if it wants to be considered by consumers who are forking out for the competition. $15 a month to see Game of Thrones is also going to win them new subscribers next month as a legal, price-friendly alternative to a full home installation or illegal downloading. Even better that there is no lock-in contract. I can see people signing up for Game of Thrones and getting hooked on other Drama titles.
The introduction of Chromecast, allowing viewers to cast shows upon their big screen TV is also a welcome addition.
Adding HD is a no-brainer and was one of the reasons many resisted Presto. At this stage HD is available on PC / Mac via Google Chrome browser, Telstra TV and Chromecast. But not being available on mobile / tablet is disappointing. HD available at 720p not 1080p resolution.
Foxtel also has a formidable movies library and runs rings around the other players in original local content.
It has also come to understand that customers respond to show brands and exclusive titles. Live Sport, HBO shows such as Game of Thrones, Westworld, Big Little Lies and original Australian series such as Wentworth and A Place to Call Home sit atop its content assets. Not to keep harping on about Presto, but Mr. Robot was its only worthwhile drawcard unless you were a Home and Away fan (what, 6 episodes a week isn’t enough?).
If you want all the content on Foxtel Now it will set you back $104 a month, a dollar less than Foxtel Play. Some individual packs, such as Sport, have increased from $25 to $29 per month. While it’s great to opt out of some genres, the price that competes with Netflix and Stan will get you either Drama or Lifestyle, but not Movies. Add to that the recent removal of 19 channels, notably Music and BoxSets and the appeal is less enticing.
But while Foxtel is looking to get down with the cool kids it faces deeper questions as a terrestrial broadcaster that could prove to be a Programming tug of war.
It’s the old vs the new. Netflix and Amazon are dropping entire seasons same day in Australia as the US. Foxtel does fast-track its marquee US titles day and date (indeed some are same time as the US) but there are many that are held off for weeks or months as part of a bigger broadcast schedule.
Meanwhile Streaming doesn’t have a broadcast schedule. It’s dropping seasons like movie premieres. It’s not waiting for Pretty Little Liars to end before launching The 100. While this may wash in an old world broadcast schedule, it’s programming without borders in the new world of Streaming. Foxtel’s Orange is the New Black marathon tomorrow is purely to match what Netflix is doing, but it’s essentially a one-off.
Then there are the channels which are not Foxtel owned & operated, such as BBC First & FX (the latter is quite good at fast-tracking) where the premieres are beyond its direct control. Australia is waiting for Taboo next month, which screened in the UK in January.
To be fair, Stan is dropping weekly episodes of shows such as Better Call Saul, Twin Peaks and iZombie based on US schedules too. But they run day and date. Foxtel Now will need to launch all its shows same day as the US if it is serious about Streaming -not just the sexy titles.
Then there are the ads.
Viewers might cop a pre-roll before a Streaming show starts but the idea of paying a monthly fee and having ad breaks will bite. This again comes back to understanding that Streaming is more than simply offering a ‘lite’ version of cable playouts.
Can you meet the demands of one without disrupting the other? To their credit, Nine / Fairfax have embraced this branding distinction. Stan functions without it directly compromising Nine’s terrestrial broadcast. I’m constantly surprised that readers who are dismissive of Nine programming remain positive about their Stan experience.
With big investment, Foxtel has the upper hand in local titles, but is it really prepared to drop an entire season of Wentworth or Picnic at Hanging Rock in a day? Unlikely.
The new logo, in lower case to appear less arrogant, is a symbolic good gesture. I’d still like to see more dilution of brands. Foxtel Go (which is the catch-up service for full subscribers) will still be confused with Foxtel Now. While we’re at it, that $10 HD fee IQ subscribers are paying should have been abandoned 2 years ago. It’s 2017!
Apple TV is another feature that would have been great as part of Foxtel Now. It is reportedly on the way “hopefully by the end of the calendar year.” The upcoming puck which includes FTA and is compatible with Google Play Store apps sounds promising.
I’m encouraged by moves in the right direction but will be watching with interest to see how Foxtel negotiates its scheduling for a new landscape. Come and play with the cool kids.