How the Foxtel, Netflix deal will revolutionise TV
Finding something good to watch can feel like endlessly scavenging through the depths of entertainment's past.
Both pay-TV and streaming services offer so many thousands of hours of content, Australian viewers now not only have to work out what to watch but where to watch it, whether they subscribe to it, and if they have a device to support it.
But Australia's two subscription TV giants today announced they are finally working on a solution, with Foxtel and Netflix partnering to allow their entire libraries to be shown on just one set-top box, with voice search to find what they need.
It's a move analysts say could solve one part of the 'what to watch' puzzle for time-poor audiences, but they also warn there are even more services headed our way that threaten to complicate our viewing.
Roy Morgan chief executive Michele Levine told News Corp Australians had adopted subscription television rapidly, with more than 14.7 million people, or more than 72 per cent of the country, now viewing a pay-TV or streaming video service.
More than 13.3 million of those viewers were tuning into Foxtel or Netflix, she said, while the rest were split between smaller competitors.
"There is increasing competition," she said. "You've got Disney coming, Stan, Amazon Prime. There are so many of them that consumers need to go all over the place to watch them. It's a changing market and, given the fairly low cost of entry, people are jumping in, jumping out … they're subscribing all over the place."
Other growing players included Foxtel's sporting offshoot Kayo, Google's YouTube Premium, and Fetch TV, all of which added new subscribers over the past year, according to Roy Morgan.
Apple is also expected to launch a TV service in Australia in the coming months after revealing plans for big-name, big-budget original content earlier this year.
And subscribers are not just setting them up and forgetting to tune in. Deloitte's Media Consumer Study found Aussies streamed an average of 13.5 hours of video every week.
Veteran media analyst Steve Allen, managing director of Essence Media, said there was little doubt subscription TV had become "a very crowded space" in Australia and would become even more so.
While studies showed younger audiences, in particular, were adapting to using multiple devices to access these TV streams, Mr Allen said efforts to reduce the number of gadgets plugged into the biggest screen in the house would be well received.
"Logic says one box is much better," he said. "At home it becomes tedious swapping between all the different subscriptions.
"Smart TVs make it easier but you still have to know the pathways and things can go wrong. We all think we're pretty good at it but when you're confronted with a TV that has no keyboard and just a remote control, you might not know what to do."
Foxtel's partnership with Netflix will mean its subscribers can access its TV shows and movies alongside the US TV giant's content from one device for the first time, complete with a dedicated button on Foxtel's revamped remote control.
Swapping from a Foxtel exclusive like Wentworth or Big Little Lies to a Netflix original like Stranger Things or Nailed It could be done with a few buttons on the same channel changer.
Viewers will still need to sign up to a Netflix subscription to access the content, though they will be able to do that from within the menus of the iQ4 or iQ3 set-top box after new software is pushed to their device. Foxtel will also offer free six-month Netflix subscriptions with new 12-month contracts over $49.
Foxtel's entire install base of more than 1.1 million iQ4 and iQ3 devices are expected to have the Netflix-friendly software - and new menus - installed by November, in what CEO Patrick Delaney described as the "most ambitious upgrade program ever" for the provider.
Its new remote control will also deliver voice controls, thanks to a small microphone, though that feature will not be available until later this year.
Mr Allen said the new service could deliver an unexpected windfall for Netflix in particular, as there was "not a huge crossover" between Foxtel and Netflix subscribers.
But he warned the success of either service, along with any of the other streaming video players, would be decided on whether audiences felt they could find use them to achieve every viewer's goal - to find something good to watch.