The Game of Thrones season seven premiere was Foxtel’s big moment to carve out its own niche in the increasingly competitive streaming market, and the Australian pay TV company blew it.
For months the company had been spruiking its exclusive content deal with HBO as a huge drawcard for customers considering signing up to its already-overpriced service.
The recent relaunch of its streaming service Foxtel Now was tied heavily to Game of Thrones season seven, with offers of free two-week trials coinciding perfectly with the episode’s air date.
On Monday night, it had the opportunity to convert those on trials into loyal customers – but instead it sent them running to the dwindling number of piracy sites still accessible in Australia.
— Lauren (@laurenN_01) July 17, 2017
Foxtel released a press release on Tuesday saying it was “devastated” that an “unprecedented rush” to subscribe to its streaming service has caused technical glitches across the board.
Except, it was hardly unprecedented.
It should have seen this surge in popularity coming. After all, Foxtel proudly declared in a 2016 press release that season six’s premiere episode achieved a “landmark” 1,224,000 viewers – the biggest audience in Australian subscription TV history.
Additionally, Foxtel’s entire promotional campaign for the service had been based on boosting subscription numbers.
A spokesperson for the pay TV provider was also intent on highlighting the fact the issue wasn’t just limited to Foxtel.
“As was the case in the US and Latin America, the unprecedented rush for a subscription just prior to the telecast, crashed the system,” Bruce Meagher said in a statement.
Mr Meagher was referring to HBO’s streaming service HBO NOW, which also experienced some glitches as the season seven premiere aired, but by no means to the same scale as Foxtel’s system.
Some viewers complained of slow buffering, while others were unable to access the new episode at all, but HBO told The Hollywood Reporter the problems were mainly limited to Latin America and were resolved by the conclusion of the episode.
— Mena (@alldaymena) July 17, 2017
Regardless, HBO’s site had more of an excuse to crash – 16.1 million viewers tuned into the premiere in the United States alone, six million of them through streaming services.
Foxtel, by comparison, was expecting a paltry 1.5 million viewers divided across its streaming service, app, and regular cable TV service.
Those Australians who decided to resist the urge to pirate the episode were rewarded with the promise they could watch the episode later in the week through the On Demand service or encore screenings – a particularly unsatisfactory option given GoT spoilers are difficult to avoid.
Steve Molk from TV website Decider.com said Foxtel Now had no excuses for the outage.
He said the blunder could destroy the streaming service if it’s repeated during next week’s episode.
“If it does then they’re dead in the water,” he told The New Daily.
“I suspect lots of people who signed up were testing them last night with their free two weeks and will simply cancel and walk away, which will reduce the load and make things easier.
“However they’ll just step off to whatever torrent server they used to get TV from and pick up where they left off.”
— Jason Allan (@JasAllan) July 17, 2017
Establishing reliable servers for a streaming service ultimately comes down to money, Molk said. Apparently, money Foxtel was unwilling to spend.
“The technology exists to have extra servers available that come online based on demand,” he said.
“Given they are delivering a service that should be able to expand and contract based on the demand of customers there is no reason why they shouldn’t have been in a position to simply make things run better.
“They really only would have needed to spend money to increase what should have been a highly available and highly responsive server environment.”