Overnight, Foxtel gave its streaming video service a new name. The prices are the same, and for now there are no new gadgets or hardware to tempt you with. But this is just the first step in a huge transformation in the way Foxtel works and how it sits in Australia's media landscape.
Foxtel Now is, at its core, a re-branding of the company's existing products, but it's also so much more — it's the first sign we've seen of a serious commitment to the way Australia watches its TV shows and movies in 2017 and beyond.
Foxtel Now is the new name for Foxtel Play, the IPTV live and streaming video on demand platform you've been able to use on your iPhone, Android, PC, games console and smart TV for a while now. It's the same service that itself got a shake-up late last year. And its prices stay the same — a $10 entry price for a basic kids or lifestyle package, $15 for drama or Pop (with HBO programming like Game of Thrones), and up to $29 if you want live streaming sport.
And Foxtel's traditional subscribers will still access their cable or satellite TV service through an iQ3 box, with the same features and channel choices — although a hardware upgrade and software updates fixes the troubled roll-out that set-top box has had. Fundamentally, the same Foxtel services that already exist will continue to exist without any significant changes.
But Foxtel, to its credit, realises that Australians are watching TV differently now. The last few years of Netflix and Stan show that users that might not have paid for content at all are willing to pay a small amount — $10 or $15 a month — for a slate of quality programming. And Foxtel is quality, it says — it had 98 of last year's 100 top-rated movies in its catalogue, where its competitors had no more than 30.
Foxtel Now is Foxtel's attempt to appeal to the masses in the same way that Netflix and Stan have. It wants to be friendly and approachable, where before it freely admits it's seemed masculine and arrogant. It wants to be the premium provider of entertainment content to Australians, but not just the cashed-up ones that have been subscribing to cable for a decade — a group that represents over half of the 40 per cent of Australians that do subscribe, a massively loyal customer base.
To that end, Foxtel is launching a new IPTV-only streaming box later this year, at around a $99 price point. Competing with the Chromecast Ultra, the Foxtel Now box will have access to whatever Now package a customer signs up to, as well as any compatible Google Play Store app — since it's built on the Android TV program. It'll also have Chromecast functionality and a TV tuner built in, and Foxtel obviously wants it to be a one-stop shop for Foxtel Now customers — and customers of its competitors — to watch streaming TV.
And Foxtel is finally transitioning that streaming TV to HD, catching up with Netflix and Stan. It's only 720p, but it's a big jump from the existing non-HD service. Chromecast support is coming to the Foxtel Now app, and more devices can be registered and streamed to at once (5 devices, 2 simultaneous — from the previous 3 and 1). Crucially, it also has the hook of also offering linear, live TV programming for sports and news, which its competitors can't.
Foxtel's biggest change in its 22 years is only just starting, and it won't be visible for a few days at least — not even to the customers that already subscribe. But it's a change that's been overdue for a long time, and it makes us actively care about Foxtel in a way we haven't for a while.