How does it stack up?
On-demand streaming – we’ll call it SVOD for short, which stands for Streaming Video on Demand – has had a massive impact in the past few years, and is now a part of the daily entertainment landscape for millions of Australians. There are more subscribers to streaming services than there are eyeballs in front of the latest episode of Masterchef, with the power of choice and convenience leading more and more people into a new age of television – a world where broadband internet is the source, rather than the old metal antenna on the roof.
But before Netflix or Stan arrived in our homes, Foxtel was a pioneer of streaming video – since 2013. The company offers Foxtel Now, a combination of live-channel and on-demand streaming that’s capable of almost exactly mirroring the content offered on the hardware-installed Foxtel service. Foxtel also made tentative steps into SVOD with Presto, a service that launched before any of its competitors and came loaded with tasty exclusive content, but never seemed to be able to keep up with the disruptive ways of its rivals. It closed down in early 2017 to make way for a revamped and better-priced Foxtel Play. Foxtel Play recently rebranded as Foxtel Now, introducing a new interface and HD streaming.What Foxtel does best is… well, Foxtel. And with the launch of Foxtel Now – with more versatile channel packs, lower price points, lower cost of entry and an upgrade to high definition they’ve clearly decided that playing to your strengths is the key. Are they right? Well, let’s take a look at how the new Foxtel Now shapes up against the competition – though before we start, there’s one important point of difference between the two that needs to be mentioned.
Foxtel Now was always – and still is – a broadband-streaming version of its live channels, literally delivering Foxtel to you via the internet as its channels go to air. That gives you access to some of the stuff you’ll never find on SVOD services – live sports and news, exclusive shows from networks such as HBO as well as Foxtel themselves, and so on. But tied into Foxtel – both the home-installed version and Foxtel Now – is the On Demand service, where you can stream shows and movies anytime.
It’s all about how you want to watch content – and Foxtel Now gives you two options, both live and on-demand. The others only offer on-demand streaming. That isn’t a dealbreaker for some – after all, the streaming revolution started the day people realised they could not only watch shows on their own schedule, but also watch multiple episodes of an entire season of a show in one sitting if they wanted to.
But Foxtel has a few trump cards in its deck. They can screen (and stream) the shows they have first-run rights to exclusively – so if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, or just getting into the new season of Mr. Robot, you can catch every episode live as it goes to air, rather than waiting for a stream later. And obviously, there’s live events, especially sports, that SVOD simply cannot cover – Foxtel does 18 channels of live sports, and all of them are available on Foxtel Now for streaming 24 hours a day.
So how does Foxtel Now – with its new low-price-of-entry setup and its access to that tasty exclusive content – shape up against the new behemoths of streaming? Let’s take a look.
Netflix and Foxtel Now actually have more in common than you’d think; both are creators of original content, and have pushed that content as one of the reasons you should subscribe. Both have their selection of headline exclusive shows that you will hopefully be enticed to subscribe for. And both have millions of customers consuming their content on a daily basis.
When it comes to TV shows, Netflix falls into two categories – their “originals” and their general TV content. Though branded as “originals”, many of the shows that bear the Netflix logo aren’t actually produced by Netflix – they’re just exclusive to the streaming service. But with billions of dollars being fed into producing their own stable of shows, Netflix is fast becoming its own de facto TV network – one which rivals HBO in terms of scope and quality.
Foxtel Now, meanwhile, has access to Foxtel’s own “originals” – they don’t describe them as such, but acclaimed shows such as Wentworth or the highly acclaimed Secret City carry on a tradition of producing original Australian drama that goes back many years – Love My Way was a huge hit, for example, and has never been seen on either free-to-air TV or streaming services such as Netflix. Alongside the drama, there’s a huge array of lifestyle and reality programming that is exclusive to the Foxtel brand.
Outside of “originals”, Foxtel Now has its unchallenged access to HBO content as well as early access to many hit shows from the US and elsewhere; Netflix, meanwhile, has to wait for the home video release period to end before they can get a series up on their service.
When it comes to movies, Foxtel Now has access to the newer stuff much sooner as well; Netflix generally aims once again for movies that have already done the rounds on home video and paid streaming, whereas Foxtel Now can get hold of more blockbuster movies sooner.
One thing Netflix can’t – and has repeatedly said it won’t – do is live streaming, and it’s there that Foxtel Now gets the advantage – if you want live sport or events, Netflix isn’t what you’re after.
Fresh and slightly rebellious Stan has carved itself a solid niche in the Australian SVOD world by making itself a kind of Netflix-meets-Foxtel. While they have at their core the same streaming model as Netflix, and they do produce some high quality original content – Wolf Creek and the Logie award-winning No Activity in particular – they operate on a model overall of supplying a bunch of movies and TV series for people to binge on, and that’s a model that’s worked well.
But Stan pokes into Foxtel Now’s territory when it comes to current shows – their output deal with US premium cable network Showtime lets them stream brand new dramas and documentaries (such as Billions or The Circus) hours after they air in the US, and earlier in 2017 they premiered the reboot of the classic David Lynch series Twin Peaks – which was as big an event as any Game of Thrones season.
In movies, Stan does do both the mainstream and the blockbuster, but they’re movies that generally are well past their stay in the retail market. They go beyond that, though, by venturing heavily into non-mainstream movies – Australian classics, film festival favourites and fascinating movies from around the globe – including some decidedly challenging offerings. However, Foxtel Now does have access to many of those movies as well.
Again, though, there’s no live streaming – sports, news or anything else.
Combining SVOD with live TV channels, Fetch TV is probably the closest to Foxtel Now that any rival service gets. Based around its own custom box which combines a free-to-air TV tuner and recorder, and a suite of apps to stream from services such as Netflix, Fetch also offers access to a collection of live-streaming premium channels that include many also offered by Foxtel Now. Covering sports, music, lifestyle and news, they provide a similar solid base of channels that you’d get with Foxtel Now – with some additions only available on Now via the purchase of additional channel packs.
But the real strength of Fetch TV is in its versatility – not only does it provide some of Foxtel Now’s functionality with live channel streaming, it also acts as a set top box for free-to-air and a streaming box for paid services like Netflix and Stan. Fetch also gives its subscribers 30 free movies a month – but they’re pre-selected, so the range is limited compared to having access to Foxtel Now’s Movies pack.
Foxtel Now’s long-promised streaming device should arrive soon, and will be an enticing proposition – as it will likely also handle streaming services and free-to-air TV. This review was updated in October 2017.
The streaming-only services – Netflix and Stan – operate on a fixed-price model where your one monthly fee gives you access to everything they have to offer. Netflix can be as low as $9.99/month – though if you want HD, you can bump that up to $13.99, and $17.99 for Ultra HD. Stan gives you access to its entire library in SD for $10 and HD for $12. For 4K Ultra HD, you need to get the Premium Plan for $15/month. Fetch TV, meanwhile, can be had for between $10 and $15/month (with a collection of add-on packs available for extra channels – including the beIN Sports pack for an additional $15, which is also part of the Foxtel Now sports pack).
Foxtel Now’s pricing makes it a very enticing alternative. With a collection of base entertainment channels available to everyone, your subscription only needs to include one basic pack ranging between $10 and $15/month. The two headline packs – both of which include premium drama channel Showcase, the home of HBO – now cost only $15 each, or you can have both for $25/month. On top of that you can add the premium sports pack or a movies pack.
What this means is you now have access to all that exclusive Foxtel content – including HBO – for not much more per month than you’d pay for Netflix, Stan or Fetch. Optionally, you can add even more content – and part of that is the unrivalled Fox Sports suite of 18 channels of premium live sports, as well as the Foxtel Movies channels with their collection of literally thousands of films for all tastes. Best of all, EVERYONE can grab the Foxtel Now free trial whether you’re a new user or existing Foxtel Play subscriber!
In many ways, Netflix and Stan offer a complementary service to what’s offered by Foxtel Now and , to a lesser extent, Fetch TV (the latter having the undeniable drawcard of its versatile hardware). Foxtel Play used to be a similarly-priced streaming version of Foxtel, but now, as Foxtel Now, it’s priced at a point where it’s a real choice for those enjoying the new way of watching TV. And yes, Foxtel Now does offer on-demand streaming as well.
With such a low cost of entry, you really can’t go wrong with any of these services – but we reckon Foxtel Now, with its low-cost access to channels and shows previously priced way above the new players in the game, is very much worth checking out now that it’s almost criminally cheap to access. You can try it for yourself for two weeks for free, too by taking advantage of the free trial offer that gives you all of Foxtel Now to explore – so you can see for yourself how broadband is putting television back in your hands.