Pay TV in Australia: Compare Providers and Browse Deals

In the US, premium TV delivered via cable has existed since just after World War 2. And yet, Australia was slow to offer pay TV services for many years, with the five free-to-air networks enjoying total dominance over all kinds of entertainment and sports TV programming.

Until 1995, that is. Back then, three different companies unleashed pay TV services on a country that had never seen so many channels available at the same time. And everything changed. Today, nearly 30% of Australians subscribe to pay TV in its traditional form. A low percentage by international standards, but still a significant part of the viewing audience. We remain just as loyal to pay TV now as we were in the years before on-demand streaming services arrived. Free-to-air channels suffered real damage from the rise streaming instead.

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’s paid for rather than received for free, in Australia the term “pay TV” has historically referred to the various services that have appeared since 1995. They provide access to extra broadcast TV channels that are unique to the service – a novel concept to Australians when it first started.

Delivery of those channels can be through several forms – via a network of fibre and analogue cables laid out in many capital cities (very similar to the Fibre to the Node networks now being 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, television from space!).

You subscribe to pay TV by paying a base monthly rate. This gives you access to a core set of channels. Then, 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.

What is Pay TV, anyway?

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.

Australian Pay TV today

The current landscape for pay TV in Australia is actually more diverse than it used to be. Even though, when it comes to traditional cable and satellite pay TV, there’s only the one provider dominating the industry: Foxtel. Since launch, Foxtel made the move to high definition and eventually added all its HD channels to its satellite service, meaning even those with no cable access get full service. 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.

In the internet space, meanwhile, competitor Fetch TV has gone from strength to strength in the years it’s been operating. It shares many of the basic subscription channels with Foxtel, as well as adding some perks of their own – including a selection of included movies for customers to stream each month at no cost. The latest Fetch hardware can be had as either a small streaming-only box (the Mini) or a fully-featured digital video recorder (the Mighty). Unlike Foxtel, customers can buy these boxes to own outright (though they have limited functionality without an active Fetch TV service).

Foxtel’s move into the internet space takes the form of Foxtel Now, which combines live streaming of Foxtel’s channels with the on-demand streaming service also found on the iQ3 cable and satellite boxes.

In a world where on-demand streaming is taking off in a big way, the continued success of both Foxtel and Fetch shows that there’s still very much a market for linear pay TV. And millions of Australians agree!

Australian Pay TV today

The Top Streaming TV Providers

Still king of the pay TV kingdom in Australia, the telco Foxtel offers its millions of subscribers access to a huge range of channels encompassing the latest premium TV, blockbuster and art-house movies, and of course multiple channels of the world’s best live sport, including full live coverage of the AFL and NRL seasons.

While it might seem strange to see Telstra as a pay TV provider, they are very much active in the space thanks to their partnership with Foxtel. Their “Foxtel from Telstra” service offers a range of alternative options for those who want to combine pay TV with home phone and broadband services.

If who want quick, easy streaming access to Foxtel, the newly-upgraded and renamed Foxtel Now streaming service (formerly Foxtel Play) is the answer. 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.

Boasting dozens of channels, on-demand content and a superb multi-tuner DVR that’s equally at home recording pay TV streams or free-to-air broadcasts, 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.

The future of Pay TV

Foxtel looks likely to embrace on-demand streaming 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. 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.