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.

24 Responses

  1. Hear hear David!

    Advertising (during content) is an insult Foxtel must address. To make it worse, I am now getting less content for the same price; I started with Foxtel Play and the Pop package. With Foxtel Now, I’m getting less ‘channels’ and less content than Foxtel Play.

    When I first asked Foxtel about this, they said:

    “we’ve made the decision to remove some our linear channels in order to re-direct resources to the kind of programming that customers want to see most on the Now service.”

    When I asked Foxtel if the content (from the removed linear channels) would be available on-demand, they said:

    “Other than Binge and Boxsets, any on demand content linked to any of the Live TV services being removed will no longer be available”

  2. I got rid of foxtel when they lost the EPL rights. I have fetch TV now and Netflix.both very affordable both great content .lovin both . The EPL on Optus is a far superior product than foxtel ever delivered . I don’t miss the adds on foxtel the very regular adds or the super expensive product they offered .sounds like nothing has changed at foxtel even Foxtel now has adds and is way too expensive .

  3. A completely unbiased story about Foxtel now by News Corp. It’s actually one of the funniest thing I’ve read in a while.

    1. “It’s actually one of the funniest thing I’ve read in a while.”

      Only if you read the comments. One favourable out of 22 suggests to me that Foxtel still have a lot of work to do.

  4. Foxtel’s response to my query weather the On Demand/Anytime content would also become HD for satellite/cable subscribers was ‘It is still in SD but we will let you know if anything changes’. So no clarity and an easy fix you would assume. It’s all the more infuriating because I’m being charged the $10 per month for HD channel streams but can’t get the same shows anytime in HD.

    I also asked why it was still $10 per month for HD when this is now a free inclusion for Now customers and they advised ‘HD on Now is dependent on the internet connection and not guaranteed so they don’t charged for it’.

    They may have rebranded but still appears to be the same old Foxtel that doesn’t appreciate or care to understand their concerns,

    1. I noted an article in FlatPanelsHD reported that Apple has chosen HEVC as its next generation codec. If Fotel was serious about its new marketing strategy getting future proofed for new generation UHD TV’s should have been a priority. The reality is that apart from their head start capturing the rights to content and sports, Foxtel is lagging behind the competition snapping at their heels.

    2. The lack of HD with the ‘Anytime’ content was one of the reasons I dropped my Foxtel entertainment packages and just kept Sport. If you have to pay $10/ month for HD content then you should be able to watch a show which originally aired in HD, also in HD via catch up. I’m lost as to why you can’t. In any event Foxtel have lost that part of my business and with so many other cheaper alternatives I can’t see myself going to back to Foxtel for entertainment without a radical change to how they charge and offer their services. For me i’ll need to either be able to purchase individual channels or shows, no more packages. How the Scy Fy channel is packaged with channels that show the Kardashians is beyond reason!

  5. Thanks for a well written read.
    A couple of things stand out to me that make me think the Foxtel offering is rushed & not well planned. While it’s great to see chromecast added it seems I can’t access the service on my Fetch tv and the comments about poor streaming quality are surprising given the excellent reception I get with both Netflix and Stan.
    Since I can buy box sets via Fetch TV once the season has aired I think I’ll continue to wait a few weeks and purchase them so I can watch again and again for the same cost as the subscription.

  6. David, as one of the original team that set up Optus Movies, I feel I should add my two cents comment here. Let’s be clear Foxtel has not changed its business model or legacy approach to pay tv here in Australia. All they have done is add to their distribution methods/channels. They have not addressed the fundamental problem of their model – it does not allow subscribers ala carte selection of individual channels. They insist on hiding their real programming fees to content providers by using themed genre bundling. In 2017 their marketing department continues to ignore long held resistance by consumers to this forced pricing scheme. By all means change a small flat fee to access the service, but after that allow subscribers to pick and choose individual channels at various price points that reflect their real cost to Foxtel. Foxtel pay a monthly fee to each channel provider based on…

  7. I don’t get $29 for sports which gets you all sports channels including many you don’t care about. For me $29 for sports is too much then to have to pay $10 extra to see it in HD on top. To become more competitive, fox sports needs to be able to be broken up – for example if I only want to see NRL I should be able to do just NRL for $10 a month say. Same with AFL. Both are their own dedicated channels so wouldn’t be hard to do. I know there is that Telstra Live pass option, but having it already on Foxtel is more convenient.

    As for $10 for HD – I have been enjoying 4k content on Netflix – for $14/month. 4k! HD $11 a month – including all the content! The Foxtel $10 for HD thing goes back to when HD was a novelty 15 years ago – now it should be the norm.

  8. Thank you,David,for your well researched,well balanced article.For me the biggest problem with the Foxtelplay rebrand is the dropping of the 19 channels without any explanation or justification.For people like me,you’re essentially getting an inferior service with fewer choices,for the same price.Unless Foxtel can deal with the pricing structure and make it cheaper along the lines of its competitors,i can’t see how this rebranding is going to win over any new fans.More than likely,it’ll turn people away from them.

  9. At present Foxtel GO doesn’t work on the latest version of Mac OSX. I can watch it on my iPad but can’t airplay it to my tv or use an Apple TV app. Are they getting away from Silverlight technology?

  10. I give them credit for trying.
    One of the main reasons why I cancelled Foxtel Play was due to major buffering issues randomly happening. So hopefully they’ve improved the streaming itself.

  11. To better compete Foxtel really needs to be investing in making more locally produced original programs then they are potentially able to drop an entire season in one day and see a flood of Aussie talent coming back here to work. The reliance of imported programs and reruns of programs that aired on Free to Air TV already isn’t a sustainable model in my opinion.

  12. Excellent article, David. Sums up everything I and others have said about Foxtel’s third-rate (now second-rate) entry into the streaming market.

    Ads are annoying but they pay for otherwise “free” services. Their is no excuse for them in a subscription service. Netflix and Stan seem to manage without them. What is Foxtel doing wrong?

    Foxtel’s mindset appears to be to maintain as much of it’s outdated cable delivery system with it’s streaming service. Then when that fails, they tweak it to make it a little more like Netflix.

    $10/mth entry point – for crap.
    Adjust the packs to “better match customer desires” – channels get dropped but not the price. (What is it with forcing packs upon us anyway?)
    Ooh look, HD in 2017 – but only 720.

    Foxtel need to adapt more and faster or they’re going to go extinct.

  13. The drop of channels in Foxtel Now has a lot of people angry. To do this with no wide scale warning, while touting a rebadged service, is a really bizarre marketing decision.

    It’ll be interesting to see in a few months how many people have signed up vs how many have left or reduced their services.

  14. I downloaded Foxtel Now last night, tried for one hour to find something to watch, couldn’t find anything worthwhile

    Murder from BBC sounded interesting but they only had one episode available. Same with some other BBC first shows with only the latest 3-4 episodes available to watch eg The Missing season 2 which didn’t have the premiere available.

    Netflix and Stan are miles better, I will cancel my 2 week trial of Foxtel Now when it is finished

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