One year ago my brother in-law and I made a decision. We wanted to do the right thing. We wanted to try and pay to watch Game of Thrones season 5. Analyse that sentence for a second. I’ll add some italics for emphasis. “We wanted to try and pay to watch Game of Thrones.”
This story was originally published on April 2016.
We couldn’t just pay. We had to try to pay.
There weren’t many options.
Buying through iTunes, obviously, was out. That wasn’t allowed anymore. Paying for HBO GO was a decent second choice -- because it’s HD and streams pretty well by all accounts.
But there were issues. We ran the risk of being geo-blocked and, as an Australian, technically you’re not supposed to be paying HBO GO to watch Game of Thrones.
This left us with one option. The only option you’re supposed to be considering when watching Game of Thrones: that option was Foxtel. The cheapest way to pay Foxtel to watch Game of Thrones?
Let’s talk about Foxtel Play.
Foxtel Play turned out to be a complete disaster. Last year I wrote an article detailing the many ways in which Foxtel made it extremely difficult for me to pay them money to watch Game Of Thrones. You can read the whole story here. Here’s the TL;DR version: I had such an incredibly difficult time trying to get Foxtel Play to work that after three hours of failure and abysmal customer service I gave up and downloaded a torrent.
I refused to feel bad about that.
The article I wrote detailing my Foxtel experience struck a chord. A large number of people seemed to relate. It was one of our most read and shared stories of 2015. It spread so far and wide that eventually Foxtel got in contact with me regarding my experience.
It was a civil conversation. Very nice and polite. Essentially Foxtel provided me with a login and a password for Foxtel Play, just to check it out.
At the time I remember thinking, ‘this doesn’t change anything’. This doesn’t address the issues I had signing up for the service, it doesn’t address the customer service I had to endure. Most importantly, an unavoidable fact: I was only receiving this kind of individualised attention because I wrote a widely read article criticising the Foxtel Play service. This was, in the nicest possible sense, an attempt to stop me talking negatively about Foxtel Play. For the thousands of other users experiencing similar issues, nothing would change.
I tried it regardless. I installed the Foxtel Play app on my PlayStation 4 and – surprise surprise – another disaster.
Let me start with the basics. I would like to state from the outset: Foxtel Play is a service people are paying anything between $25 and $95 dollars for. If I was buying just for Game of Thrones you’re talking $30 minimum. This is a deal. This is considered a discount. To clarify: the package I was provided for review would have cost regular punters $50. A month.
Here are some of the issues I regularly encountered.
- Foxtel Play runs -- at best -- at an extremely low resolution. 480p is the best you’re getting.
- Foxtel Play runs a totally noticeable bar at the side of the screen that I can only assume is piracy protection.
- Foxtel Play only allows you to use three different devices at one time. You could change this once per month. My PlayStation 4, my tablet and maybe my brother in-law’s PS4 were my default three devices during my time using Foxtel Play. Say I’m cooking and I want to watch something on my laptop, that’s not gonna happen unless one of the other devices gets the boot.
- Foxtel Play would frequently crash. It would frequently stop to buffer. How frequently? Once I tried to watch a movie with my family and it crashed five times during the movie. Once I tried to watch a live UFC event on my laptop and I had to restart the Foxtel app four times. I missed entire fights.
I should note at this point, that this was my own personal experience with Foxtel Play. Your mileage may vary.
Let’s compare this to Netflix, a service I pay $11.95 a month for.
- Netflix runs at HD always. If the show is available in HD it runs in HD, without fail. Despite the fact I have terrible internet.
- Netflix has never crashed on me. Ever.
- Netflix has no limits on devices. I’ve used my Netflix account on my PS4, my Xbox One, my Wii U, three laptops, my Nexus 7, two iPads, two mobile phones, my brother in law’s Playstation 4 – I could go on. Suffice to say I use my Netflix login everywhere I go. No problems. No issues.
Again, my personal experience. Your mileage may vary.
The gap between these two services: utterly astronomical. I cannot even communicate to you how much better Netflix is compared to Foxtel Play in design, execution, content, user experience, performance. Everything. You can claim this comparison is apples and oranges. I disagree. Regardless, the gap is insurmountable.
Now consider the fact that the service Foxtel Play had provided me was worth $50 per month. Netflix was charging me $11.95.
Now, back to Game Of Thrones.
Season six started this week and I no longer have the Foxtel Play review account. Roughly a week ago Foxtel Play began offering customers a one-time only offer. Between April 19 and April 29 users could subscribe to Foxtel Play, getting the base service and the separate Premium Movies and Drama package required to watch Game of Thrones for only $30 per month.
Only. $30. Per. Month.
A service that frequently crashes, buffers, 480p resolution.
$30. Per. Month.
I am going to say something very publically. And I would like to preface this by stating the following: I am a person who likes to pay for things. I still buy Blu-Rays. I buy video games. I rent movies on the PlayStation Store. I am currently a paying subscriber to Netflix, Spotify, PlayStation Plus, Xbox LIVE and UFC Fight Pass.
But, given that Foxtel Play is the only avenue I have for watching, I have no problem admitting that, for the foreseeable future, I will be illegally downloading Game of Thrones season 6. I will most likely buy the Blu-ray when it is released but until then, I will torrent this show and I refuse to feel bad about that.
The headlines and the stories are predictable. It’s a tradition as rigid as Anzac Day. The day after the first episode of a new Game of Throne seasons: Australians pirate in record numbers. Australia is a nation of pirates. Australia has a piracy problem.
Australia doesn’t have a piracy problem. Australia has a distribution problem. More specifically: Australia has a Foxtel problem.
It’s insane, it’s actually insane to expect consumers to subscribe a $30 a month service just to watch one single show. It’s bordering on anti-consumer to tell Australians that this is their only avenue to watch that show.
First I tried to pay Foxtel to watch Game of Thrones. They made it difficult to do that. Then they gave the service for free. Today, even if I had Foxtel Play, I would most likely still do what I did this past Monday night. I would download a torrent, watch the show in HD -- without buffering, without frequent crashes -- without having to endure this service I’m expected to pay $30 a month for.
Since this article was first published, Foxtel has changed the pricing for Game Of Thrones and renamed its streaming service to Foxtel Now. But has anything changed? You can read our first impressions of the revamped service here.
This story originally appeared on Kotaku.