Entertainment TV Foxtel’s not dead yet, but it’s still on life support

Foxtel’s not dead yet, but it’s still on life support

Kit Harington Emilia Clarke
Foxtel holds onto its subscriber-saver Game of Thrones by winning the bid for HBO content against Stan. Photo: HBO
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Foxtel has lived to see another day, with the news on Wednesday morning it won a bidding war with Stan to hold onto the exclusive Australian rights for HBO content.

The win comes in a big week for the subscription television channel: Friday is expected to bring the official announcement of Foxtel’s new entry into the streaming service market, as part of News Corp’s results.

The service is rumoured to be called Binge, and will offer viewers just that: The chance to binge on entire seasons.

And a key part of that plan now appears to be HBO content – think Game of Thrones, Big Little Lies and Chernobyl.

Foxtel boss Patrick Delany confirmed the new service will launch within six weeks, in an exclusive chat with The Australian – also owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

When a plan (kind of) comes together

On the surface, things look good for Foxtel.

(That’s if you ignore the fact its premium sports offering Kayo is all but dead with sports on shutdown, the hundreds of jobs it has axed, the imminent demise of Channel V and MAX, plus the piles of mounting debt.)

But look a little closer and the cracks are there, media landscape experts told The New Daily.

Foxtel will only be safe for as long as it has HBO as its exclusive lapdog, Victoria University screen media lecturer Marc C-Scott said.

But that can only last so long – we’ll probably never know how much Foxtel had to fork out to keep HBO from jumping to Stan, but it’s a safe bet it’s more than the existing deal.

HBO has its own streaming service HBO Max launching in the US in late May, which still hangs over Foxtel’s lifeline.

Dr C-Scott said it would have been foolish of Foxtel to not include something in the deal that stated HBO Max would not launch in Australia for the foreseeable future.

“That’s always going to be a problem for Foxtel – it’s exclusive but exclusive might not be about forever,” Dr C-Scott said.

“This is only going to get them over the next hurdle.”

The deal is rumoured to only last about five years, so it’s fair game again after that.

The next hurdle

Foxtel’s Binge is a late entry in a very, very crowded streaming market.

There’s 10-plus platforms to choose from, including the global powers of Netflix, Disney Plus and Apple TV, plus home-grown Stan.

Media studies professor Amanda Lotz said she struggled to see how Binge would make its mark on Australian viewers.

Professor Lotz said it wasn’t clear how Binge would work with Foxtel Now, the current on-demand streaming service, which costs about $25 a month. (The rest of the country’s streaming services cost between $7 and $15 a month.)

“It is critical that Binge comes in at a price point more comparable to Stan, etc,” Professor Lotz, of the Queensland University of Technology, told TND.

“My question is, what does this mean for Foxtel?”

Dr C-Scott is also sceptical of how well Binge will be received by Aussie viewers.

“Australia is a small country compared to others. There’s only so many TV networks we can have,” said Dr C-Scott, saying there just might not be room for a service that just streamed classic – but old – TV shows.

“Back in the day, there were questions over if we should have a third commercial channel – Channel Ten – people said we were too small.

“It will be interesting to see how it plays out. You’re only as good as your distribution deals.”

Sports get rorted

Kayo, the on-demand sports service, was hailed as the saving grace for Foxtel, offering subscribers the chance to stream pretty much any sport from anywhere in the world, whenever they wanted.

Enter: COVID-19. Exit: Sports.

The loser? Kayo.

Kayo sports isn’t very helpful when there’s no sport being played.

What’s up for grabs now is the broadcast rights to the NRL, and Dr C-Scott predicts Foxtel is in with a strong chance of securing them all to itself.

“I think (Foxtel) wants to stay in the sports market and I think it’s a productive opportunity for them,” he said.

NRL’s rights are split between Foxtel and Nine, which owns Stan.

They’re three years into a five-year deal.

But on Tuesday, Nine’s boss Hugh Marks showed his frustration with the league.

“It’s not a given that NRL has to be part of our future,” Mr Marks said in a conference.

“It has to just pay its way like all of our content does, and if it doesn’t, well … again, we are less reliant on that as a revenue source.

“We have to be hard … we have agreed to nothing this year.”