We’re going to come right out and say it. When we started writing this comparison, it seemed a little unfair. After all, we already know that Foxtel is the dominant force in Australian Pay TV entertainment. It has dozens of premium channels and exclusive coverage of some of the best sporting events in the world. Free-to-air is… free?
And so, as we sipped Daiquiris in the zebra-skin recliner by the rooftop swimming pool of CompareTV Towers, we envisioned that it would be no contest. That the no-cost Freeview footslogger would be run into the dust by the sleekly engineered juggernaut that is Foxtel.
As it turned out, Foxtel did indeed win, but Freeview (a.k.a. Free-to-air) — battered and bruised perhaps — also made it to the finish line in one piece.
Foxtel and Freeview — What’s the Difference?
This is what you really want to know about — is the programming on Foxtel better than on Freeview?
One word answer: Yes.
Two word answer: Hell yes.
We know you had to ask, and we respect that, but really, Foxtel has over 90 channels. Even at its most basic, the service offers 45+ channels that cater to everything from kids’ TV and movies to dramas and documentaries, and invests heavily in producing and acquiring the best content in the world.
If you’re addicted to soaps, you can watch them all day and all night on Foxtel. If you absolutely, positively must watch all the sport all the time, you’ll find coverage of every event that matters on one of the many dedicated sports channels as well as the sports news channels. There’s also the option to live-stream popular sports to compatible mobile devices using the Foxtel app. If you choose the full channel package, there’s a serious danger that you’ll never leave your house again. Headline shows on the way include the final episodes of Game of Thrones ever, the upcoming second season of Big Little Lies, and the brilliant Foxtel-produced re-imagining of Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Free-to-air TV — or Freeview — on the other hand, offers channels from a variety of broadcasters, but unlike with Foxtel, it’s not the case that whenever you tune in there’ll be something worth watching. At the time of writing, it’s 8:45 a.m., and the best picks right now are the shopping channel, an unbelievable amount of kids’ TV, and news in Chinese, Arabic, English, and Russian.
Granted, this isn’t the best time of day for high drama and entertainment, and looking ahead to the evening’s schedule, we see back to back episodes of The Big Bang Theory on channel 99, Gone In 60 Seconds on Channel 7, and a whole host of solid British and American TV shows from the last decade or so.
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What does Foxtel Get You For the Cost?
The basic Foxtel Entertainment Pack costs $26/month for 45+ channels, giving you a taste of all available genres. If there’s an area you’re particularly interested in, such as documentaries, movies, or sports, these can be added for an additional price of between $10 and $29 each. If you want everything Foxtel has available, then the “Platinum HD” Pack will set you back $137/month.
|Entertainment (Base Pack)||$29||
Meanwhile Free-to-air — as the name suggests — is free.
Does Foxtel Have Exclusive Sports Content?
Australians love their sport, so any comparison between Free-to-air and Foxtel wouldn’t be complete without a look at the quantity and quality of their respective coverage of the most popular codes.
Telstra NRL Premiership: Nine Network offers a minimum of three live matches on free-to-air TV during each round, Thursday and Friday night, as well as Sunday afternoon, with the last few Saturday night games on Channel 9 in the lead up to the Grand Final. Fox Sports and Fox League will televise every game of every round live, in HD, and ad-break free before the NRL Grand Final.
Toyota AFL Premiership: Channel 7 offers a minimum of three live matches on their Free-to-air network, each full round in all states and territories, which will generally include Thursday and Friday night, Sunday afternoon, as well as the Saturday afternoon game shown on delay. Foxtel will continue to deliver every game of every round live and in HD, before the AFL Grand Final. Between Fox Footy and Fox Sports the matches are televised across multiple platforms including cable, satellite, internet, tablets, and smartphones (PC and Mac excluded).
The above comparison can be used to describe Freeview TV content as a whole. It’s solid, but not dazzling. It’s good, but it’s not inspiring.
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Using Foxtel and Freeview — The Experience and The Features
This is where things start to become a little more interesting. The latest iteration of Foxtel hardware — the iQ3 box — is a thing of beauty. It’s black, it’s smooth, it looks like it should be in a science fiction movie, and it allows you to record hundreds of hours of TV, as well as view catch-up TV and pause and rewind live TV — all accessible through a Bluetooth remote control. The iQ3 is amazing.
But this is where the Freeview standards come in and where, for now at least, it clings onto a tenuous advantage.
Believe it or not, there’s a semi-official body which sets the rules on what can be branded and sold as a Freeview box. That body is called the Freeview Initiative.
To gain certification as part of the Freeview Initiative, your hardware has to be able to receive transmissions in both standard definition and high definition. Sounds great, but unfortunately another Freeview requirement is that all recording-enabled hardware has to be incapable of skipping over adverts on recorded content. Bummer.
But don’t despair just yet — you’re still allowed to watch Free-to-air on devices which don’t conform to the requirements of the Freeview initiative. A range of devices, from Sony’s PS3 to the recent Fetch TV — as well as numerous small-brand personal video recorders — have been able to bring Freeview to your TV for years. It’s your choice — play by the rules and buy a box endorsed by the Freeview initiative, or watch through an unapproved device and skip the ads.
What you miss out on with non-Freeview hardware is the special Freeview electronic program guide (EPG), which in its latest form on hardware certified as “Freeview Plus” will let you browse the program guide, choose what you want to record, view catch-up TV from all of the Free-to-air channels, and a lot more. It’s incredibly user-friendly and very sleek — it’s also something you’ve been able to get, more or less, with Foxtel for many years now.
Foxtel also offers the Foxtel app to all subscribers. This handy little app runs on most mobile devices and lets you take the best that Foxtel has to offer with you, wherever you want to go. Freeview, meanwhile, has their Freeview FV app that lets you browse and stream all the available channels. However, with some networks (like Nine) the network’s own app is required to actually stream live TV or catch-up.
An Unfair Fight, Maybe — But Who Wins?
Whether you choose to go for Foxtel or Free-to-air depends on how much you love TV. If you’re a casual viewer, we imagine that you’ll be quite happy to stay with Freeview. After all, it’s free, it’s easy, and the content is pretty good.
If you’re the kind of person who loves TV, and has found yourself waiting with bated breath for your zombie fix on Fear the Walking Dead, or absolutely needs the best sports coverage money can buy, and can afford to pay for it, then you should, without hesitation, choose Foxtel. You can take a moment and compare the latest Foxtel deals.