Review: Foxtel Now now Offers Bigger Entertainment at a Lower Cost


Foxtel Now

The world’s best entertainment is about to get a whole lot cheaper.

For the past three years, Foxtel Now has been something of a lifeline to broadband users that don’t have access to the standard, home-installed version of Foxtel. Especially around the times of major television events – such as the annual arrival of a new season of Game of Thrones – Foxtel Now has been the only way that many can get access to the exclusive programming that Foxtel has on its roster. As a system, it’s always made sense – offer the same channels as the broadcast version, but deliver it via broadband internet. But it’s not been without its critics; pricing has arguably been too high, given the need to provide the fairly large amount of internet bandwidth that streaming live channels demands, and the lack of access to desirable features like the series recording offered by Foxtel’s iQ boxes.

And then there’s been the fact that it’s been harder than it should be to get Foxtel Now onto your TV screen at home. If you have a current game console, it’s easy enough, but otherwise, you’ll have found yourself out of luck. On top of all that, the service has only ever been available in standard definition – fine for tablets or laptops, but not so great on a 55” TV screen.

All of this is about to change in a big way.

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How It’s Been

Since its launch, Foxtel Now has done a great job of delivering live streams of almost every Foxtel channel via the internet for those who don’t have a physical Foxtel installation at home. There’s lots of reasons why that might be the case – if you’re renting, travelling a lot or are in a location where even a satellite-dish installation isn’t possible (apartments and blocks of flats, for example).

Foxtel Now has offered access to its range of channels via a fairly limited range of options – PC and Mac, game consoles and a small selection of smart TVs – and bolstered that with the access every subscriber gets to the parallel Foxtel Go service, which is essentially Foxtel Now for mobile devices (it’s included with all Foxtel subscriptions, whether fixed-install or streaming).

Pricing for the service, though, has until now closely mirrored that of the “full” Foxtel. While a little more flexible in terms of the choice of base package, you still had to pay $25 up front for one of four categories – Entertainment, Drama, Documentaries or Kids. Those could be combined with a discount on each, with all four costing $50/month. But what if you want the good stuff – the channel that has Game of Thrones on it, for example? Well, for that you’d have to add another $20 a month, for a minimum total of $45 just to watch that one thing you want to see on Showcase. Add to that the fact that it was all delivered in standard definition with no HD option and it’s fairly easy to see how it seemed like an expensive proposition – especially in a new world where Netflix existed.

The Presto Factor

Presto

While Foxtel Now streamed live Foxtel channels to a niche audience that needed the service, Foxtel decided to take their movies-on-demand service Presto and turn it into a full-blown competitor to the incoming US giant Netflix and local player Stan. Presto had the benefit of the huge Foxtel movie library, and combined with TV content licenced both via Foxtel and partner Seven West (it was the best way to watch the brilliant Mr Robot, for example) it went up against the giant of on-demand streaming and the fresh-faced new contender. But the Presto experiment made something clear to Foxtel execs; that their strength and savvy in pay TV didn’t translate to the cutthroat world of on-demand streaming, where older content is king.

The way Foxtel saw it, streaming was the future, but the Foxtel channel model was incredibly popular. The solution was announced last month, and it’s a huge change – especially for Foxtel Now customers.

The New Foxtel Now

Starting on December 1st, Foxtel Now is undergoing a massive change – and it’s one that benefits its existing customers immensely, as well as being likely to bring massive numbers of new ones on board. The changes are based on a re-thinking of Foxtel’s entire streaming strategy – first and foremost, Presto is finished. It’ll wind up its service completely at the end of January, but first, Foxtel Now is stepping into the picture as a replacement.

The content on offer will be extremely similar; Presto was drawing on the Foxtel library for 90% of its content anyway, and with the Anytime on-demand functionality built into Foxtel, that same content should still be there for on-demand streaming (and with the new deal with HBO that kicks in at the start of 2017, you’ll likely see even more quality on-demand streaming shows available).

The really big news, though, is the pricing, and the content that comes with it. With the new Foxtel Now, the base monthly cost is as low as $10/month – that’ll get you access to your choice of documentary, lifestyle or kids channel packages, with 8-11 channels in each. The blockbuster deals, though, are the two $15/month packs – titled “Drama” and “Pop”, they each boast seven channels and both include Showcase, the channel that’s the home of all the HBO goodness including Game of Thrones. Yes, that’s right, for the next season of that show, you’ll be able to stream it or watch it on-demand with a $15/month subscription, a third the cost of before.

The drama pack also bundles two BBC channels, Universal and Box Sets, while the “Pop” pack throws in SyFy, FX, Fox8 and Comedy Channel. Can’t decide? You can have both for $25/month!

The Premium Packs

Of course, lots of people want their Foxtel for sport or movies, and there’s dedicated packs available for those as well; these are pretty much the same as before, with sport and movie packs giving you the full complement of those premium channels for $25 and $20/month respectively. While those haven’t been granted a price drop, the low base cost does drive down the total cost of streaming these channels – with content such as Formula One GP and AFL – a lot lower.

But Wait, There’s More…

Along with any subscription to the new Foxtel Now you also get a batch of channels outside of the “packs”. Those include multiple news channels (Sky, CNN) as well as music, sports and arts.

HD, and a New Box

While at launch, Foxtel Now will still be streaming in SD, the company has set a timeline of early 2017 for an upgrade to HD, which will bring Foxtel Now firmly into the modern streaming age. Complementing that will be a new low-cost streaming device – similar to the Telstra TV or Apple TV – that will give customers easy access to Foxtel Now on their big-screen TVs without hassles. No details have yet been released on the upcoming device or its pricing, but you can expect it to be small, capable and very affordable – and a very high quality, subscription-and-installation-free way to get access to all the exclusive programming that Foxtel has to offer. Until then, Foxtel Now has become available on Telstra TV via the Foxtel Go app.