Foxtel, Australia's premier pay TV service, has launched a number of streaming apps in recent years. First, it arrived on Xbox as a way for people to tune in aside from their primary set-top box. Eventually, that same functionality made its way over to the Telstra TV. Next came Foxtel Go, an app for iOS and Android devices that allowed existing customers to catch-up with their favourite shows on the go. Foxtel Play launched soon after, offering Foxtel subscribers their first delivery of the full TV service via the internet.
For the most part, customers would need to have an existing Foxtel cable subscription (unless they were on a separate Foxtel Play subscription). That meant getting Foxtel service technicians out to your house to install a Foxtel box (installation and hardware fee included), paying a costly monthly subscription fee, and in the case of all but the most expensive Foxtel package (which goes for $99 per month), being on at least a 12-month contract. That's a lot of money and effort on your part if all you want to do is watch the latest HBO shows in Australia legally.
Thankfully, that isn't the case with Foxtel Now – a simple streaming service that does not require a traditional pay TV subscription or additional hoop jumping. The new service provides a Netflix-style, streaming-only Foxtel package that lets you watch all of the service's catch-up content, as well as its live TV streams. All you have to do is sign up online, download the app, login, and away you go.
So now that Now is here, is this the Foxtel streaming service we've all been waiting for?
As you'd expect, Foxtel offers iOS and Android apps, from which users can cast shows or movies to their televisions using a Chromecast or Chromecast Ultra. PC and Mac users can also stream Foxtel Now in their web browser, and while device compatibility was paltry at launch, this has improved significantly in the years since.
For starters, there are now more ways to get Foxtel Now on your television, including the ability to browse shows on your TV screen with a TV remote via dedicated apps for many Hisense, LG, Samsung and Sony smart televisions, along with streaming on a Telstra TV box or via the PlayStation 4 app. At present, Foxtel Now is not available to stream on Xbox consoles.
Foxtel Now packs and pricing
Just like on its existing cable TV service, Foxtel wants its customers to tailor their Foxtel Now experience around what they're actually interested in watching, and it offers a variety of packages (split into Starter Packs and Premium Packs) that include content from a number of different channels. These are subscribed to on a month-to-month basis, so you can cancel at any time, and there's also a free 10-day trial period on offer.
When it launched, customers were able to get up and running on the Foxtel Now service for as little as AU$10 per month. However, Foxtel Now's pricing tiers have changed, meaning you'll now need to spend a minimum of AU$25 per month for the now compulsory Pop and Lifestyle packs.
Remember the Doco and Kids packages? Though they were once the least-expensive options at AU$10 each per month, the individual packs have now been scrapped entirely. At present, the only way to get Kids and Doco content back is to opt for the AU$104 per month for the All Packs bundle – an expensive option that will undoubtedly put it out of reach for some families.
The Drama Extra pack is thankfully still around and continues to be priced at AU$10 per month, and while the premium Movies (AU$20 per month) and Sports (AU$29 per month) packs are the same price as they were at launch, the minimum cost to access them is now pricier thanks to that initial AU$25 you have to spend on the Pop and Lifestyle packs – the effective minimum cost for Movies is now $45 per month, while Sports access will cost you at least AU$54 per month.
Having to sign up for specific packages for certain shows is bound to cause some confusion for Foxtel newbies, especially those accustomed to paying a flat monthly fee for everything that Netflix and Stan have to offer.
However, Foxtel could be onto something with this approach. For instance, the way the packages are set out suggests that there are two types of Game of Thrones fans – those that want to compliment their time in Westeros with hard hitting dramas like The Sopranos and Wentworth, and other that love geeky favourites like Supergirl and Fear the Walking Dead. It actually makes a fair amount of sense, although it does mean customers with more eclectic tastes will be forced to sign up for both the Drama and Pop packages.
Of course, the Foxtel Group's Streamotion division has since launched an entirely new streaming service named Binge which offers much of the same content as Foxtel Now from only AU$10 per month. Now the only question is: how does Foxtel Now's content differ from Binge and is it worth the extra money?
Are you content with its content?
At the time of the streaming service's launch, the ability to stream Game of Thrones without the need for a traditional cable package was one of Foxtel Now's biggest selling points.
As you may know, Foxtel owns the exclusive broadcast and streaming rights to HBO's content in Australia, meaning that Foxtel Now subscribers can stream the likes of Lovecraft Country, Succession, Raised by Wolves, The Undoing and much, much more.
The arrival of Foxtel Now means you no longer have to go through all the hassle of setting up an installation just for any one show – you only have to own a device that's capable of running the Foxtel Now app.
If you're willing to pay for all of the packages on offer, then Foxtel Now's library becomes vast and magnificent, with a lineup of shows and movies that wipes the floor with the competition. On top of that, you also have the option of watching live sporting events – something that neither Stan or Netflix has dared to partake in.
That said, Binge now offers access to HBO's content, along with a huge selection of other shows that were previously exclusive to Foxtel Now, and at a much more affordable price point.
So the real question is: do Foxtel Now's extra content offerings make it worthwhile in a post-Binge world? Well, yes and no. It really does depend on what you're planning to stream.
If all you want out of Foxtel Now is its mandatory Pop and Lifestyle package, or its additional Drama Extra package, we'd tell you to sign up to Binge instead, as pretty much all of that stuff (and more) is on there to stream for less than half the price per month. That said, if you're after sports and the latest movies, Foxtel Now is your best bet.
Sports fans will be more than happy with the huge selection of shows and matches available to stream... well, so long as they're into NRL, AFL, racing, Union, soccer, boxing and/or wrestling. Of course, the joy of watching sports is not in streaming old games but witnessing them as they happen, and thankfully, Foxtel Now's Live TV section has you amply covered in that regard.
When it comes to movies, Foxtel Now's selection is enormous, with a number of big and fairly recent releases available to stream. Films like The Invisible Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Way Back, The Gentlemen, Joker and Birds of Prey are only a few taps away, while the service also offers a number of classics and fan favourites, such as Blade Runner, Independence Day, Lost in Translation, Braveheart and much, much more.
Kids also have a dedicated section, with a number of family-friendly movies and TV shows available to stream, including their favourite cartoons.
Now that we're all quite accustomed to streaming shows and movies on a daily basis, there are things that we've come to expect from a streaming service's user interface.
The app is spread across four tabs: Home, Live TV, On Demand and Kids. Like Netflix, titled are listed horizontally in themed rows, only here, the rows include things like Best of HBO, Foxtel Originals, Best of Lifestyle and Trending TV.
Towards the bottom of the Home page, you'll find an On Now row that's made up of live TV shows that happen to be on at that moment, complete with a progress bar. For a more complete look at the titles offered by Foxtel Now, the On Demand tab splits TV Shows, Movies, Sports and channels into a number of subgenres.
While Foxtel has a done a decent job of approximating the typical streaming experience with the Foxtel Now app, it does lack some really basic things that give Netflix and Stan the edge in terms of usability.
For starters, while you can now add shows and movies to a watchlist (meaning you can throw away that pen and paper you were likely using before), there's no way to create profiles for individual users. There's also so much going on in the app, with its multiple tabs, genres, channels and Live TV sections, that the act of navigating around it can be a little confusing (and perhaps somewhat intimidating for less tech-savvy people).
We're also very disappointed to see pre-roll advertisements in the app. While Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV Plus will occasionally run short ads for their own original shows and movies before your stream begins, Foxtel Now will occasionally force you to watch a 30-second long ad for something completely unrelated, like home insurance, before you can get to your already-aired football match.
This happens regardless of whether you're paying the minimum price of AU$25 per month or the maximum of AU$104 per month, and quite honestly, isn't something we'd expect to see on a premium streaming service in 2020.
Another annoyance is that the act of casting from a smart device just isn't ideal for binge-watching. On the iOS and Android app, the show you're watching doesn't automatically continue onto the next episode once it's finished. Instead, the app will kick you back out to the Foxtel Now 'Home' menu. From here, you'll have to make your way back to the show's page and find the next episode, which is somewhat clumsy, to say the least.
Luckily, this is not the case with the TV and console versions of the app. Here, a countdown to the next episode will appear at the end of the episode you've just watched – just like with Netflix and Stan. We really hope this makes its way to the Chromecast version of Foxtel Now.
It's also worth noting that the app does not feature an option to only allow streaming on a Wi-Fi connection. Under 'Data Usage Settings', you're only given the option to select Auto or Low quality settings.
Additionally, you're still forced to register devices which can access your Foxtel Now account, which feels a bit outdated in 2020. Try to stream from a new device and you'll have to boot off one of your previous devices.
Thankfully, Foxtel Now has added Closed Captions since its launch, allowing the hearing impaired to read subtitles while they watch their favourite shows and movies (so long as they read English).
We would've also liked for offline viewing to be included, though its omission is a little more understandable, given that the app is relatively new.
So now that the Foxtel Now app has been around for a while, how does it stack up compared to launch? Well, we're pleased to say that Foxtel Now has improved somewhat since it first arrived on the scene, though it still has some of the same issues.
There were numerous instances of buffering and crashed streams on Foxtel Now during the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones – issues that were likely due to the show's immense popularity.
That said, we haven't really noticed anything like that in the year since the show wrapped, with mostly smooth, uninterrupted streams delivered by the service for its other big shows, such as Lovecraft Country and The Walking Dead.
In terms of video quality, Foxtel Now has upped its game significantly since its launch. Streams clear up almost immediately, however, not every show is available at the service's HD resolution, which is to be expected for older shows.
Thankfully, the vast majority of Foxtel Now's content is now available in HD, including classic '90s sitcoms like Seinfeld and Friends. (Some other sitcoms, like Frasier and The Nanny, are still only available in standard definition, but those shows haven't received recent remasters.)
Should I subscribe to Foxtel Now?
You want massive content selection
Foxtel Now's huge library of TV shows and movies puts the other streaming services to shame.
You love sports and you don't care who knows
It's great that the app offers live-TV and sports coverage, something that its competitors have yet to even consider in any meaningful way.
You want to avoid signing up for a cable package
We love that we no longer have to go through the whole pay TV installation or contract-signing process.
Don't subscribe if...
You hate pre-roll advertisements
We understand ads in catch-up services that are free, but when you're paying between AU$25 and AU$104 per month?
You want a fully featured streaming app
The app feels light on features, with no individual user profiles and no offline viewing. You also have a set number of devices you can have registered at once.
You only want access to pop and drama shows
The recently launched Binge streaming service offers much of the same HBO content and is more affordable.