In the US, cable TV has existed since World War 2. Australia however was slow to offer pay TV services. Instead, the free-to-air networks enjoyed total dominance over all kinds of entertainment and sports TV programming.
Until 1995, that is. Back then, three different companies unleashed
The current landscape for pay TV in Australia is now far more diverse than it used to be. When it comes to traditional cable and satellite pay TV, Foxtel is the provider which has dominated the industry for many years, but today there are many more alternatives which either provide competition to, or supplement the services of, the pay TV giant.
What is Pay TV, anyway?
While it’s a bit of a catch-all term that is sometimes used to describe any form of TV service that isn’t purely free-to-air, in Australia the term “pay TV” has historically referred to the various cable TV services that have appeared since 1995. They provide access to a unique group of television channels – a novel concept to Australians when it first started, but one that has caught on handily now. This means that streaming – while still being TV that you pay for – is not usually considered to be Pay TV, although of course Pay TV providers often offer streaming services.
Delivery of those channels can be through several forms – via a network of fibre and analogue cables laid out in capital cities (very similar to the Fibre to the Node networks rolled out for broadband), via the internet or, most commonly these days, as a transmission from a dedicated TV satellite to a dish on your home or building’s roof (yes, TV from space – what a time to be alive!)
You generally subscribe to pay TV by paying a monthly subscription fee. This gives you access to a core set of channels. With the dominant services – namely Foxtel and its variations – you add extra “packs” or groups of channels depending on your interests (sports, movies, lifestyle, and so on). In that regard, the system has more in common with the UK pay TV format that the US one. In the US, pay TV is largely delivered via cable and is very often tied to a home broadband service as a package. In Australia, though you can get a broadband service via the pay TV cable, it’s relatively uncommon, and becomes more so as more people opt for a satellite-based delivery.
The history of Pay TV in Australia
The story of pay TV in Australia is a relatively short but volatile one – starting with intense competition in the mid-90s and ending in a distinct divide between services today. It all began when a company named Galaxy launched their pay TV service using wireless transmitters (sending the signal from towers on the ground rather than satellites). This is where channels like Showtime and Arena made their Australian debuts. But the two dominant telecommunications providers – Telstra and Optus – had plans of their own and had been busy setting them up. While Galaxy launched with a quick and easy wireless system, both Optus and Telstra were working on rolling out proper pay TV cables on a massive scale. This would allow them to offer a huge range of channels.
That rollout was a bit contentious. Telstra was able to put their cables underground using their own phone line tunnels. However, Optus was forced to string hefty cable from power poles – and ultimately many areas got no cable service at all by the time the rollout finished.
Optus managed to launch their service – Optus Vision – in September of that year, closely followed by Telstra’s partnership with New Limited, Foxtel. The rest is, effectively, history. Galaxy lasted only a few years, their customers absorbed into Foxtel. Optus Vision hung on longer but ultimately suffered the same fate, as did regional satellite provider Austar. And where we ended up is with a single conventional pay TV provider, Foxtel.
The story doesn’t end there, though. The arrival of fast broadband internet let some competitors jump in – most notably Fetch TV, which runs a very Foxtel-like service entirely using the internet for its delivery, and with great success.
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Understanding Australian Pay TV today
Today, pay TV in Australia is as diverse as it’s ever been, with a number of new providers offering up different ways to catch your favourite shows, movies and sports. This is great for customers – more competition means more choices, and invariably there are more deals and well-priced plans to take advantage of. The downside, of course, is that the wealth of choice can also make things a little confusing, but the list of top providers below should help to sort things out a little.
Foxtel offers up a wide range of premium channels from around the globe. You can get entertainment networks like Fox 8 and MTV, access to over 1000 movies, the world’s best drama, and over 50 sports available in High Definition – or even Ultra HD if you have a compatible TV. With the ability to put together packages based on what you want to watch, you can keep your plan simple, or get it all – 95 high quality channels beamed straight to your living room.
Moreover, their introduction of the iQ range of boxes – combined pay TV receiver/decoders and digital video recorders – have made Foxtel into an incredibly user-friendly service even for those that can’t be in front of the TV when a show goes to air. It’s easy to see why Foxtel has millions of subscribers from across the country.
Read Foxtel Review
If you’re after quick, easy streaming access to Foxtel, the Foxtel Now streaming service is the way to go. The service comes with low-cost, contract-free channel packages that let you get your Foxtel fix on your terms. Foxtel Now also sells a $99 Android-based streaming box that’s built from the ground up to be the best way to stream the service.
Plus, thanks to Telstra, you can get a 24-month subscription to the entry-level Foxtel Now package for free. Selected broadband plans with the telco giant offer up a 24-month subscription on the house – all you need to do is is sign to an eligible plan and it’s yours.
What’s on Foxtel Now Guide
Read Foxtel Now Review
Foxtel from Telstra
Foxtel from Telstra offers essentially exactly the same service as Foxtel, with the main difference being, as the name suggests, that you sign up through Telstra. The most notable benefit that you’ll receive from getting your service through Foxtel from Telstra is the price, with the telco giant offering up great deals on virtually every package for your first 12 months. As an example, the Entertainment + Sport package will cost you up to $68/month with Foxtel, while Foxtel from Telstra offer it for just $29/month for an entire year.
With Foxtel from Telstra, you’re still able to access the latest iQ Boxes, Foxtel’s streaming service Foxtel GO, and virtually everything else that Foxtel has to offer.
Contact Foxtel from Telstra
Read Foxtel from Telstra Review
Kayo is Australia’s newest way to watch sports. Owned by Foxtel, it provides an option for sports lovers who want to access the wide array of premium sports channels offered by Foxtel without having to pay for the rest of the channels. The result is a streaming platform which gives you high definition access to over 50 sports as well as a number of great features. For just $25/month you can stream Kayo Sports on two different devices simultaneously, while $35/month gets you three devices.
What’s on Kayo Sports Guide
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Hayu entered the market targeting a specific niche – reality TV lovers. That isn’t all the streaming service offers, but it is the clear focus, and for just $6.99/month and compatible with a wide range of devices, it has emerged as a popular choice for those looking to keep up with the latest from the Kardashians or the Real Housewives franchise.
What’s on Hayu Guide
Read Hayu Review
Boasting dozens of channels, on-demand content and providing access to all the streaming apps you can dream of, Fetch TV is an excellent service that built a loyal fanbase. It’s available through select internet providers for a low monthly cost, and you can either rent the box or buy one outright.
See Fetch TV Plans
Read Fetch TV Review
The future of Pay TV in Australia
Foxtel looks likely to embrace ostreaming even more in the future. Perhaps the next generation of their iQ series of boxes will be the one that truly blurs the line between live TV and streaming – and pay TV may come to be thought of as “premium TV”.
Whatever happens, one thing is for sure – despite the sudden and enormous threat from the massive take-up of streaming TV, pay TV in Australia isn’t going anywhere. In fact, when it comes to its ability to cover live events – especially sports – there’s nothing that comes close in terms of quality and depth of coverage – though Kayo Sports has changed the game by effectively combined streaming and pay TV to create the most in-depth sports-dedicated platform in the country. Furthermore, pay TV still offers plenty of shows you won’t find on streaming services, not to mention recent movies (and yes, they’re free of commercial breaks and on-screen watermarks!). Pay TV is here to stay.