Foxtel (including traditional Foxtel, Binge, Kayo and Foxtel Now but not including Flash) now has 3.97 million subscribers (of which 3.85 million are paying subscribers).
Foxtel’s HBO content output deal is due to end in 2023 so the big question after this last year of guaranteed HBO content on Foxtel and Binge is whether Foxtel will pony up for an extension of the HBO deal. If they don’t its very likely that WarnerMedia (soon to be WarnerMedia Discovery once approved by regulators in the US) will launch HBO Max in Australia. Whether that will be with a local partner or they go it alone is up for debate. Discovery+ could also launch along with HBO Max and it’s possible there could be a bundling of the two for a discount.
Foxtel and Kayo will have another year of screening AFL on Fox Footy, NRL on Fox League, cricket on Fox Cricket, NBL on ESPN, netball, NBA on ESPN, F1, V8 Supercars and motorsport on Fox Sports and Fox Sports Ultra HD as well as the other sports left on the network that haven’t been swiped away by competitors like Stan Sport, Amazon Prime Video & Optus Sport.
Foxtel, Kayo and Main Event will also have Stan Event, Stan’s new pay per view platform, to contend with. The first event that would have traditionally been on Main Event that will now be on Stan Event is the Turf War featuring NRL player turned boxer Sonny Bill Williams versus AFL player turned boxer Barry Hall.
The iQ5 set top box will continue to be rolled out to Foxtel subscribers who were on cable (due to be discontinued in 2023). The migration of Foxtel customers onto the modernised (as of 2019 I think) Foxtel channel packages with generous discounts to aid the migration process. The iQ5 will eventually be sold at retailers like JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman and The Good Guys and touted as an Internet Based pay TV device. Competing with Fetch TV on its home turf. Foxtel seems to be moving away from satellite TV altogether but I think this will be on a much longer time scale as there are many people who have Foxtel Satellite as they can’t get Internet any other way. I think NBN’s Sky Muster may have been helping that situation but Elon Musk’s Starlink global satellite Internet service will blow Sky Muster out of the water.
News Corp Australia (65% owner or Foxtel) and Telstra (35% owner of Foxtel) are rumoured to want to float Foxtel on the Australian Securities Exchange (or ASX). 2022 might be the year for that to happen. I’ve seen valuations between $4 billion and $5 billion. Whether NCA and Telstra can sell Foxtel on its Initial Public Offering (or IPO) as a growth prospect depends on their ability to show that their streaming video offerings (Kayo, Binge, Flash, Foxtel Now) have growth potential because their traditional Foxtel (satellite and cable TV) are what could be said as hemorrhaging subscribers.
As for the iQ3, iQ4 and iQ5 set top boxes. These are the future for traditional Foxtel subscribers. Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany plans to make Foxtel On Demand the centre of the traditional Foxtel experience (almost as important as live sports). That’s why he will want as many subscribers moving off the older set top boxes like the iQ2, as Foxtel On Demand no longer works on them. And a lot of the older boxes are over a decade old. It’s like using the original iPhone when the iPhone 13 has just been released. The hardware is vastly improved as well as all the new software updates and features and bug fixes that come along with it.
Foxtel’s plans for the iQ3, iQ4 and iQ5 set top boxes include new apps for when people get sick of linear Foxtel (read live Foxtel) and Foxtel On Demand. Amazon Prime Video is confirmed to be on the way. Foxtel already has Netflix, YouTube, ABC iView and SBS On Demand on the eligible iQ set top boxes. Foxtel will want to launch new apps. Apple TV+ and Disney+ are the obvious next expansion apps. But Foxtel may do a deal with ViacomCBS to bring 10 Play and Paramount+ to the iQ platform. 9Now and Stan are a bit of a long shot as they are owned by Channel 9 and News Corp Australia and 9 have been fierce competitors for as long as I can remember. But Patrick Delany has said he would welcome all streaming video apps. 7Plus is the other free to air catch up TV app yet to feature on the iQ platform. News Corp Australia (co-owners of Foxtel) and Seven West Media have a pretty good relationship so expect 7Plus on the eligible iQs in the future.
Foxtel has VEVO for music videos. Whether they bring Spotify, Apple Music or any other streaming audio app to the iQ platform will be interesting to see. Of course many people will get sick of waiting for Foxtel to bring these apps to the iQ at the glacial pace that is occurring and will buy an Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire Stick, all of which get the job done with all or most of the requisite apps out of the box.
Foxtel also have plans to bring out a Foxtel TV. It is likely to be a feature of 2023. But we will hear more news about how Sky Glass in the UK goes before Foxtel’s TV offering launches. Sky Glass is Sky TV UK’s planned TV and the inspiration for Foxtel’s TV.
Foxtel will continue to be a data analytics focused company. Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany has said how much the company keeps an eye on what customers are watching on Foxtel On Demand and Binge and Kayo. This will help guide content decisions into the future and whether or not it’s worth renewing content deals. Or even in what type of Foxtel Originals Foxtel invests in and creates.
If Foxtel does lose HBO what will they do to make up for it? More Foxtel Originals? More live sports deals? Will they start investing in movies for television? Or will they just make Foxtel subscribers wear the loss? Discovery also may pull their channels due to the impending possible launch of Discovery+ in a scenario that Foxtel would be planning for.
Foxtel have been lobbying the Federal Government for changes to the anti-siphoning list regulation for years now. Decades even. The anti-siphoning list guarantees major sporting events to free to air television. But Foxtel wants the major events on that list to be reduced so that pay TV becomes more compelling as there would be nowhere else to watch the sports but on a pay TV service like Foxtel. I do wonder whether with all the increased competition in live streamed sport whether Stan Sport, Amazon Prime Video or even YouTube or Apple TV+ might snap up the extra live sports events on the market this would free up. If Labor are elected at the Federal election expect strengthening of the anti-siphoning list or at least keeping the status quo. If the Coalition are reelected it’s possible there could be changes to the anti-siphoning list to favour Foxtel and others in the market for live sports rights.
Foxtel will face continued disruption from competitors like Netflix, video gaming, other live sports streamers and attention grabbing technology like smartphones and tablets. Whether Australia’s shoddy telecommunications infrastructure can support Foxtel’s IPTV based transition is a wonder. Will Kayo, Binge, Flash and Foxtel Now grow fast enough to replace and exceed the lost subscribers of Foxtel’s traditional pay TV business? Will Foxtel wrangle more money out of the Federal Government? Will Foxtel become a publicly traded company? Will you continue subscribing to one of Foxtel’s products? Or subscribe for the first time? The future of Foxtel depends on it.
Anthony Eales is a media, news & tech junkie from Australia. You can reach him on Twitter @ants000.