Australians Mostly Pay For TV To Watch Sport

Australians Mostly Pay For TV To Watch Sport

With Netflix, Stan and Presto Entertainment all set to launch in the early part of 2015, there’s a lot of focus on which shows will be available on each service. In that context, ratings data from 2014 provides a sobering reminder that when they pay for TV, Australian viewers care far more about sport than they do about drama or comedy.

Picture: Getty Images/Quinn Rooney

TV Tonight has a roundup of the most popular shows on both free-to-air and subscription TV in 2014. (For all practical purposes, subscription TV means Foxtel.) The data includes both live viewing and catch-up viewing later.

Sport is prominent in the free-to-air listings, with the highest rating show of the year being the AFL Grand Final, which scored 2.8 million capital city viewers. The rest of that list is largely comprised of reality TV finales (for which the ratings are counted separately to the rest of the episode because commercial TV networks are completely shameless).

On paid-for Foxtel, the dominance of sport is absolute. All 20 of the most popular programs were sporting broadcasts, with AFL broadcasts making up more than half the list. If we’re paying, we’re paying for sport above all else.

Those sporting rights won’t be going anywhere else soon, so Netflix et al will have to rely on drama and comedy to attract viewers. From that perspective, the mainstream TV ratings do provide one promising sign: those are the shows which people are most likely to record and watch later, which is similar behaviour to using a view-on-demand service. Every single one of the “most timeshifted shows” on free-to-air television was a drama. On Foxtel, timeshifting was dominated by movies (and by Frozen, which appears five times in the top 20).

One other point: out of the 20 most-timeshifted shows on free-to-air, 17 were produced in Australia. Whether that means that on-demand services need to pay more attention to local production isn’t clear: it might well be the case that there are plenty of existing illegal sources for US and UK content, but fewer for Australian shows.

2014: The Final Word [TV Tonight]


  • I admit that the only draw card to Foxtel for me is the sport. I would love to actually be able to watch my AFL team play every week instead of 3 games a year on free to air.
    Plus all the US sport on ESPN channels , NFL Gamepass is where my money has gone this year though.
    If foxtel let me have all their sport for $30 or less a month I would sign up no worries.

    • I guess I’m lucky in that regard – I live in Adelaide. Only having 2 teams here means that all of their matches (both Adelaide and Port, home and away) are on free to air (usually on delay in the case of home games). With the vast majority of people here supporting one of those two teams, most of us are pretty well catered to by free to air. I guess if you lived here and supported an interstate club (especially one of the less-popular Melbourne clubs), then you’d probably feel a bit starved.

      I’m sure Foxtel would love to have some of those Crows / Port games exclusive in order to boost subscriber numbers here, but in my case I bloody hate Foxtel so I wouldn’t be subscribing regardless. If the AFL ever sold those rights exclusive to Foxtel I’d probably just give up watching. I guess in my mind, the value of watching the footy on TV has been firmly established, and that value is $0, since that’s what I’ve been paying to watch the footy for my entire life. If somebody turns around and wants me to start paying for something I’ve always had for free, they’d want to come up with a pretty compelling argument as to why I should, and I can’t imagine what that argument would be. Especially considering the billions of dollars that the AFL are already raking in from the TV rights. If they want me to start paying for Foxtel just so they can throw a few million dollars more on the pile… no, thanks.

      • Yeah I support North Melbourne so unless they are playing a collingwood or essendon then I dont get to watch them.
        I would actaully rather save my money on a foxtel sub and just travel to melbourne to watch them once or twice a year.

        The more the AFL proceeds to lock up their games in deals makes me like the sport less , they have an online stream which is fantastic but it only supports tablets and mobiles ! Im not watching a game on my phone or ipad.

        Give me an app for my TV and ill gladly give you money to watch HD games , same as I payed for the NFL equivilant this year.

  • This comes as no surprise, really.

    I don’t have Foxtel but the only reason I’d get it would be for sport. But for the most part, most sport I want to watch is on free to air.

  • I get Foxtel mainly for the EPL the NFL & MLB make it a bit more palatable for the cost, but it is still getting to the point where I am looking to cancel.

  • i thought everyone knew that foxtels only value was if you were a sports fan?

    lucky for me i couldn’t care less about sports 😀

  • There’s a certain amount of self-selection to the figures. Not being able to buy packages that excluded sport determined my cancellation or non-take-up of pay TV services.

  • I’ve never managed to understand the draw. There are quite a few sports I enjoy playing, but watching them nearly bores me to tears

  • I have Foxtel for the sole purpose of live sport in HD.
    Watching sport on my home theatre projector in HD on Foxtel is a joy, watching FTA SD sport looks terrible.

  • Looks like I will have to be the token Rugby fan here. FoxSport has Super Rugby exclusively, so I have no choice but to pay my Foxtel subscription to watch my sport of choice. I do however enjoy watching all my sport in HD which TV wouldn’t offer if it was free to air!

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