Australian Pay TV Plans
Pay TV in Australia: Compare Plans and Review the Best Deals
Around the world, pay TV has been a key part of regular TV viewing for over half a century. Here in Australia, however, we only had free-to-air TV to entertain us for nearly 40 years from the arrival of television in 1956. With no competition, the free-to-air networks enjoyed total dominance over 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 and satellite TV services that have appeared since 1995. They provide access to a group of premium television channels – a novel concept to Australians when it first started, but one that’s completely normal these days. 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 most services, such as Foxtel, you then 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, that cable is being taken over entirely for broadband use as part of the NBN, with all cable users expected to move to satellite or broadband delivery over the next few years.
Last audited 29 November 2020
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 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.
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 News 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.
The future of Pay TV in Australia
Foxtel looks likely to embrace streaming even more in the future. The strong rumour is that 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.
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