Back in 2009, satirical news site, The Onion, reported on the fictitious launch of a new Sony video device that was literally called, “The stupid piece of s*** that doesn’t do the goddamn thing it’s f***ing supposed to.’ In the report a Sony spokesman says, ‘Sony designed this sucking f**king goddamn thing to make everyone in the modern home want to tear their f***ing eyeballs out’ He goes on to calmly explain, “We want people to be screaming in unison, from houses across the country, “Work! Work you [multiple expletives deleted]! What is wrong with you? Why can’t you work like a normal machine?” The segment ends with him getting increasingly agitated as he jabs the non-functioning remote towards the device, swearing out loud as he does so.
For many Foxtel customers this sums up the user experience of the iQ3.
The Foxtel iQ3 set-top box aimed to fuse cable TV with internet streaming in order to deliver a TV experience that seamlessly melds, multi-channel live TV with on-demand services. It launched, just hours before Netflix opened shop in Australia. While Foxtel denied that it rushed out the product in order to beat Netflix to market there was a distinctive whiff about those claims.
The old model iQ systems, such as the iQ2, were text based, listed what was on and when, offered a primitive search system and generally did what they were supposed to quite well. That’s why they’re still on sale. By comparison, the crash-happy disaster that is the iQ3 is slow, very laggy, horribly unreliable, regularly fails to start and doing a full reset to try and speed things up again a) doesn’t work and b) loses everything you’ve recorded. On demand content is served up in sub-Standard Definition quality and using the 'updated' Bluetooth-based Foxtel remote adds another layer of unreliability and lag. The iQ3 was arguably the worst tech product of 2015 and was still one of the worst tech products in 2016.
With the top Foxtel package costing $140 per month (over $1,600 per year) plus no real performance improvement in two years and major schedule losses like the English Premier League and the Olympics, more and more people have been voicing their dissatisfaction with Foxtel.
How to switch
As we saw recently, the Fetch TV Mighty provides most of the bread and butter channels that Foxtel does for just $15 per month after one initial payment of $300 for the hardware. Netflix costs $15 per month and even offers 4K content. Both providers allow access to content via apps and Netflix provides offline access and a dedicated kids section.
Straight away that’s a saving of around $1000 per year increasing to $1,300 once the cost of a Fetch TV Mighty has been amortised. You could buy our Product of The Year, the Hisense ULED 55-inch 4K TV for that. If you want even more content there’s Stan for $10 per month and Amazon Prime for US$6 per month.
If you’re on Foxtel cable then you probably get cable internet (or the nbnTM network). Foxtel content is unmetered on Telstra (and Foxtel) cable internet packages but if you’re going to move to Netflix and Fetch TV then you’ll likely need a better data plan. The potentially good news here is that increasing a monthly, 100Mb/s 500GB plan, which costs $109 per month, to a one Terabyte plan costs just $10 more per month. Of course, if you’re not already a heavy internet user then data plan increases can prove to be substantially more expensive.
What content is missing? Movies? Netflix has some but not as many recent releases as Foxtel. However, there are plenty of online stores to rent (even newer) movies like Fetch TV’s own store, Google Play and iTunes and you’ll have a grand left over to pay for them.
Sport (especially the footy, V8s and Formula 1), HBO shows (like Game of Thrones and West World) and Foxtel-produced shows like Wentworth and A Place to call Home are now available on the updated Foxtel Play app which can now be had for $44 per month - $15 per month for the ‘Pop tier’ plus $29 per month for the ‘Sport tier.’
But there’s a caveat. While Foxtel Play content is available at a reasonable price on easy-to-use dedicated apps on select smart TVs, the Telstra TV box, Playstation, Xbox, PC and Mac, it’s not available on Android, Apple or third-party media streamers. So for many people, Foxtel’s ‘convenient and reasonably priced service’ quickly returns to being a less-convenient hassle all over again.
We’ve asked Foxtel to clarify the reasoning for this. At present the Foxtel Play website says you need a Foxtel Go app to watch Foxtel content on mobile devices. But to get a Foxtel Go app you need a full Foxtel TV subscription. Derp.
The easiest way round this (without moving into copyright infringement territory) is to purchase a Playstation 4 or Xbox One for around $500 just to get access to the Foxtel Play app. If you're a Telstra internet customer (and most Foxtel cable subscribers will be) you can purchase a Telstra TV streamer for $109 - this is the best bet.
This all gives you monthly a bill of:-
$10 Broadband allowance increase
$15 Fetch TV
$44 Foxtel Play
That comes to $84 per month (over $50 less than Foxtel’s full package). The one-off costs of $300 for the Fetch TV Mighty and $109 for the Telstra TV push the annual total to $1400 - just $200 less than the $1600 cost of a full Foxtel package. But this stretches to $600 in annual savings each subsequent year.
On the other hand you’ll suddenly find that switching between multiple devices and multiple remotes just to access the content you want can become a massive ball-ache and you start to like the idea of paying just one provider for the convenience to access everything in one place… until you realise that one place is the iQ3.
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Recently, Village Roadshow chief Graham Burke spoke about how Big Content was doubling down on blocking pirate sites and suing people (in lieu of offering easily-accessible content at a fair price) in order to curtail copyright infringement of content in Australia. The trouble here is that not only has such a policy never worked ever or that such methods are almost entirely ineffective, many infringers aren’t even Torrenting anymore.
These days, any and all content (live and recorded sport, TV shows and the newest Movies) can be streamed, on demand, at very high quality direct to TVs using a variety of media streamers and your phone. We won’t say which apps allow this, but it’s easy to find out. In a world where the best content is available globally and almost-instantly, there’s little point in downloading and sharing anything that can get you in trouble when you can just access it from multiple overseas sources without inadvertently sharing via Bittorrent.
It’s interesting that Foxtel isn’t completely cutting its own throat with Foxtel Play – the company seems to acknowledge that being a simple reseller of other people’s content for exorbitant premiums is unsustainable in the modern world and yet it’s afraid of being a reasonably-priced hub for all of Australia’s content. Blocking Foxtel Play on popular mobile devices and streamers seems silly when AFL and NRL apps are easily accessible and a Telstra TV box costs just $109.
Of course, if your internet is bad and your free-to-air TV reception is bad and you’re stuck with Foxtel Satellite access your value proposition is completely different and there’s less room for complaint.
If the iQ3 was any good and offered Full HD and 4K content on demand then sticking with Foxtel cable would be an easier choice. But it’s not and it doesn’t. And for people who can’t easily access the Foxtel Play app, the reasonably-priced content on offer is meaningless. But what’s Foxtel to do? Its entire business case is moribund and without overhauling its entire model, is its best strategy to desperately cling onto the remaining, declining, high-paying customer base that CBF to make a few changes to its viewing habits?
Either way, cord-cutting, cancelling expensive Foxtel TV subscriptions and embracing (both legal and illicit) streaming services seems to be the current consumer trend and this is set to continue no matter how much Foxtel and Big Content complains.