Hard Choices with streaming and pay TV
The breakdown of Foxtel’s monopoly on pay TV in Australia has given rise to a plethora of players. What’s worth it and who’s still going to be around next year?
If you want to know which service has a favorite show of yours, JustWatch can tell you. A number of services have some but not all the previous seasons of a show. Avoid disappointment if you’re buying on the basis of shows you like, and check beyond the show logo. The link just above will help you.
All the network icons below are linked to their websites if you want to check them out.
Information and pricing is as of July 2015 at the time of writing this article.
Foxtel remains the most expensive service and the most trouble to set up, requiring installation and a set top box. Its price has come down and if like me you’ve had it for years, it’s worth ringing up about changing your plan, as the options advertised on their web page don’t match what you can negotiate on the phone. For first run content, Foxtel still has a lot to offer and if you’re into sport then there is no substitute.
HBO appears to be locked in with Foxtel, so first runs of shows like Game of Thrones and True Detective will only be found here, and Foxtel know it, making sure that the Showcase channel is a premium item you have to pay extra for.
If you want instant gratification you could get Foxtel Play instead. Since it’s a streaming service, there is no installation cost, but the packages are at least as expensive as getting Foxtel, and you may have additional bandwidth costs as well depending on your provider. It does give you the chance to catch up on episodes of the current season of a show, but the back seasons may be on Presto or somewhere else entirely. I can’t give any ease of use advice for Foxtel Play, since I have the dish.
Foxtel will continue to bleed subscribers to the other providers, but many like me will simply reduce their package and keep it. It’s likely Foxtel will further adjust their pricing to compensate for losses but don’t expect anything like price parity.
New content on Foxtel – Many, many titles including
My favorites on Foxtel
You can’t really catch up on old seasons on Foxtel unless you choose to record them when they run a marathon.
Netflix Australia has a small catalog of shows and movies relative to the parent US version, but it’s still a lot in comparison to the other Australian providers. Their catalog should increase over time as contracts with Foxtel, iTunes, Quickflix etc expire. Netflix has been producing their own high quality content, with more to come. Prior seasons may be available on other services but now that it’s here, expect future seasons to be exclusive to Netflix.
Netflix has the strange habit of loading an entire new season in one go. Personally I think they could build more buzz for a show by uploading it episode by episode, and allowing a weekly storm of social media to blow about it.
Set up is dead easy and the interface is smooth and easy to navigate. If you have a smart tv it can run directly from that, which avoids the wifi double traffic you get from streaming via an ipad or phone to Chromecast (or appleTV). Buffering seems to be good. I haven’t had any pauses in the shows I have watched – admittedly in SD.
New content on Netflix
My favorites on Netflix
Stan is the only effective competitor to Netflix. It’s parents are Nine and Fairfax Media, and it has been making smart deals with the ABC for a back catalog of Australian content, as well as US cable channels like Starz and production companies that feed other channels in the US like AMC. It is also commissioning new dramas from Nine for exclusive content.
Stan is airing first run shows as weekly episodes (rather than Netflix’s dump and binge) and it has some good ones.
Stan requires an appleTV or Google Chromecast device plugged into your TV if you want to watch it on a big screen, I got mine at JB Hifi. That’s a one off outlay (about $50 AUD for Chromecast) in addition to the monthly fee. You DO get 720p as standard from Stan in the base price, and their buffering has been good for me (no pauses during a show to rebuffer).
New content on Stan
My favorites on Stan
Presto is a partnership between Seven and Foxtel, streaming a back catalog of both network’s shows. It has exclusive deals for some HBO shows, but non-exclusive deals for Showtime. There doesn’t seem to be much new content here and I’ve not seen claims of new shows commissioned for it, though if Stan’s arrangement with Nine is anything to go by, it may be happening. I’ve seen claims that Presto is the premiere sight for other shows such as Bitten, but only season 1 is there, despite season 2 having been aired to completion in the US.
Presto requires Chromecast (NOT appleTV) if you want it on a big screen. With no lock in contract to worry about, it’s still going to be cheaper than buying the box sets of the shows you want to consume.
New content on Presto
My favorites on Presto
Quickflix is the oldest streaming service in Australia, and its pricing seems to indicate dinosaur thinking. It simply isn’t competitive with Netflix and Stan, requiring additional payments for anything even remotely interesting. They still regard season 1 of the Walking Dead as premium content, charging $2.99 per episode above the ~$10 monthly fee. Since they are the only provider of that show I suppose they can charge what they want. Note that even in their 30 day free subscription period, you have to pay for premium content.
As there is a Quickflix store in addition to the Quickflix streaming service, it can be a little confusing about whether you can access the content through the streaming service or not. Game of Thrones for instance, is a store item you’ll be jumping through extra hoops and credit cards to rent or buy it.
On top of all that I had buffering issues with them. I cannot recommend Quickflix at all.
New content on Quickflix – ALL of it requires additional payment above the monthly fee, and much of it can be found free on the geo-dodging sites mentioned later, or on Foxtel. It feels like advertising for them if I put up first run shows they are airing.
My favorites on Quickflix – cheaper to buy the box sets, though you’d get the latest season faster from Quickflix, or iTunes.
Geo-dodging Free sites
There are a number of websites that stream tv shows by automatically geo-dodging and accessing the catch-up tv sites of free to air channels in other countries. I imagine these sites will get blocked along with torrenting and ftp links when the networks and streaming services take their favorite politicians out to lunch. In the meantime, these sites pay for themselves by being invasive with ads, and while the basic content of the sites may be virus free, the ads might be a different story. If you plan on using any such site, make sure your anti-virus and anti-malware is up to date and on guard. These sites aren’t intended for big screen viewing, so don’t bother if you’re intending to watch it on anything bigger than your laptop or PC. The links below have an honest reputation.
Geo-dodging Pay sites
Access to premium content from the source in another country often requires both geo-dodging and a payment method in that country, such as a US iTunes account. For many people that’s a pain in the ass, and I’m one of them. If you’re keen, consult your search engine.
Free to Air TV streaming
You don’t need to pay more for aggregation services like Fetch TV or Freeview. All of Australia’s free to air networks have catch up TV sites and apps. If you have Chromecast, appleTV or a smart television, you can use them on a big screen. Otherwise you can use their sites on laptops or PCs, or their apps on IOS and Android devices. I often only hear about an ABC show after it’s aired, so ABC iView is great for me to catch up on the fuss.
ABC and SBS often get exclusive high quality drama from Britain and all points of the globe respectively, and their catch up TV offerings are a great way to get into those shows while the buzz is still in the air.
My only beef with these services is the limited time availability of shows. It doesn’t mesh with a series being made available elsewhere. For instance, SBS aired From Dusk Til Dawn in 2014, but you can’t see it on SBS on demand anymore, and it’s not on any streaming services. It seems like SBS has not or cannot onsell it, so I’d guess it’s either in limbo or chained to an iTunes contract.
- Choose Chromecast over AppleTV to give greater flexibility.
- Stream direct to your smart TV if you have the option, there should be less buffering issues that way.
- Getting the streaming services is a bit of a personal choice around what you want them for, and remember you don’t need to keep them for life. Want Sense8? Use the Netflix free 30 days and watch it then dump it. Remember these services are cheaper than buying box sets if you watch them in a reasonable timeframe. If you can afford it, get Netflix and Stan and put away your DVD player.
- Get into the free to air catch up TV services, especially ABC iView and SBS On Demand.
- Is getting Foxtel worth it just for Game of Thrones? Hell yes!, but you’re probably asking the wrong person.
This is a really long article that I hope helps you out. Let me know what you think of it in the comments.