Valentine’s Day is not an ideal one for this author. Being single, it’s very difficult to be jovial on a day which is all about spreading and sharing love. So instead of fawning over a romantic-comedy or writing at length about my favourite television show, I spend my time telling people, animals and inanimate objects to make love to a cactus. For 2017, the chief recipient of my rage is Foxtel, Australia’s “premier” subscription TV service.
Foxtel is essentially the Australian equivalent of Britain’s Sky TV, a service which households pay a monthly subscription fee for to access a satellite television network with premium content. Now, I have no qualms about the content offered by Foxtel, and I’m all for paying a premium if it means high-quality programming. But given how much Foxtel is asking consumers to pay for its content, the cost just isn’t worth it.
The most basic Foxtel package costs $26 (that’s Australian dollars) per month, which seems reasonable on paper, but this package contains 46 channels, only a fraction of what Foxtel offers. Gaining access to its more popular “quality” content means paying an extra $20 for the Drama package, which includes channels like Showcase (the self-described “Home of HBO”) and BBC First (which gets dibs on the Beeb’s dramas). Foxtel will claim that the premium is worth it because viewers are getting fast-tracked access to their favourite shows, but if someone is only tuning in once or twice a week to see a programme “first”, $46 a month is asking a bit much.
It gets worse though, because not all HBO or BBC shows are screened on the same channel. Dramas such as Call the Midwife and Death in Paradise are screened on BBC First, but light-entertainment programmes like The Graham Norton Show and QI are available on the basic Entertainment pack via the UKTV channel. Wanting to watch the BBC’s factual programming – that is, shows like Top Gear or Planet Earth – means purchasing the Docos package, while accessing its children’s content means, you guessed it, having to buy the Kids package.
The confusing distribution of programmes doesn’t end with the BBC. Despite claiming to be the “Home of HBO”, not all of HBO’s content screens on Showcase. Those wanting to watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – which, judging by its YouTube views, must be one of HBO’s most popular shows – have to switch to the Comedy Channel which means (here we go again) forking out money for another package – this time, the Comedy package. Even the content which Fox owns and produces is not immune, with Bob’s Burgers appearing on Comedy Channel and its other animated comedies (Simpsons, Family Guy et al) on Fox8.*
By now, you’ve probably recognised the pattern in Foxtel’s business model: it makes money by making consumers pay extra for the content they most want to see. In fact, to gain access to all of Foxtel’s channels requires one to purchase the Platinum package at a substantial cost of $137 per month. And to make matters worse, Foxtel still expects customers (or should that be cost-omers) to pay for extra content via pay-per-view.
Such a mechanism was recently utilised in the much-publicised boxing match between Danny Green and Anthony Mundine. Now, I’m reliably informed that Foxtel makes most of its revenue through its sporting channels, so charging its most-loyal customers to pay for such an anticipated event already raises a Red Flag – this is content which should already be available to them. But instead, Foxtel chose to fill its pockets by charging households $59.95 to view the fight.
As a consequence of this extraordinary cost, many people simply didn’t bother paying for the fight, and ended up viewing it through other avenues. A couple of clever blokes were able to stream the match via Facebook Live, with their videos ending up with more than 150,000 viewers. The repercussions for “illegally” streaming the bout were swift with one of the streamers, Darren Sharpe, receiving a call from a Foxtel representative requesting that Sharpe stop filming the event, and later being threatened with legal action.
This is another theme of Foxtel’s – labelling anybody who accesses their content through other means as a criminal. It’s the exact same story with Game of Thrones which, remember, costs Australian consumers $46 a month to watch “legally”. It’s an amount many in this country are unable, or unwilling, to pay, hence why so many people download the programme online. Yet these people are not the “pirates” that Foxtel wants you to believe they are. One Tasmanian even offered to pay $10 to the Home Box Office network for each episode he downloaded.
What Foxtel doesn’t realise is that piracy is not the problem, it is their business model. Charging obscene amounts of money for programming, in an age where people can stream feature films by simply providing an email address, is just absurd. If streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are able to offer their content for as little as $10 a month, surely Foxtel is able to do the same. Already, its service is looking outdated and is being left behind.
Cable networks in the United States have recognised this dilemma, and now offer their programmes through digital platforms. Home Box Office has the HBO Go app; FX Network and its affiliates are available through FX Now; the CW is streaming Riverdale overseas via a partnership with Netflix. Here in Australia, sporting bodies are turning down lucrative broadcasting rights with Foxtel to live-stream events themselves. Over the summer, Cricket Australia streamed its Women’s Twenty20 competition over the internet via Facebook Live. Need I say more?
If you must submit to the artificiality of Valentine’s Day, please do not direct your affections toward Foxtel. It’s a company lacking in morals, more concerned with bleeding its customers dry than delivering content which is accessible to them, then demonising them for not watching their programming. It fails to see the changes in the TV industry, stubbornly parading its archaic technology as a modern marvel, and therefore does not deserve our love.
*Update, June 5th: Bob’s Burgers has since moved to Fox8, meaning that it is available as part of the basic Entertainment pack. A slight improvement, but better than nothing.