After years of stealing scraps from the table, Australians finally have a modest smorgasbord of online video services on which to feast. Foxtel's all-you-can-eat Presto movie service is the latest offering, but is it enough to meet our insatiable appetite for content?
Only a few years ago, the idea of access to Foxtel content without a full Foxtel home subscription seemed fanciful. But rather than stick its head in the sand like so many other old-world media giants, Foxtel has seen the writing on the wall and decided to embrace the internet rather than fight it.
At $19.99 per month, the Presto movie service is Foxtel's latest online offering. You won't find television shows like Game of Thrones on Presto -- it only offers movies drawn from seven of Foxtel's movie channels.
Presto needs the lounge room
Presto takes advantage of Foxtel's strong relationship with the movie houses to include content from the Foxtel Premiere Movies channel -- which screens movies about seven months after their cinematic release. Titles such as Iron Man 3, Oblivion and Skyfall are included in the subscription service, while they're still only available as pay-per-view rentals elsewhere. Presto offers rentals for brand new releases, although the range at launch is rather underwhelming.
Presto seems like good value for money until you realise that, for now, it's only available via desktop browsers and Apple's iPad, although an Android app is on the way. This falls far short of the Foxtel Play online subscription service, which is available on more devices and offers packages of movie and TV channels similar to a traditional Foxtel service.
Foxtel Play is available via desktop browsers as well as the Foxtel Go app for Apple and Samsung Android devices. But you can also watch Foxtel Play on your television via an Xbox 360 games console, Telstra's T-Box recorder or a range of Samsung and LG Smart TVs and Blu-ray players. Most people would prefer the option of watching movies on the biggest screen in their house.
Considering that Foxtel Play offers a $25 p/m premium movies channel, which also screens HBO content such as Game of Thrones, it's hard to see the standalone Presto gaining much traction until it comes to lounge room devices. If anything Presto creates an unnecessary schism between Foxtel's online offerings, when the Pay TV provider should be focusing on making itself Australia's one-stop shop for the best of online content.
Presto's absence from the lounge room leaves breathing space for its most significant local rivals Quickflix, FetchTV, Telstra's Bigpond Movies and Apple's iTunes store. All of them are designed to watch on your television, via their own set-top box or an internet-enabled television, Personal Video Recorder or Blu-ray player.
Sussing out the competition
Right now Quickflix is Presto's closest competitor, available on computers, handheld devices and a wide range of Smart TVs, PVRs and Blu-ray players. Quickflix offers a $10-per-month, all-you-can-eat movie library, delivering a much larger back catalogue than Presto. You can also rent new releases. Quickflix offers much better value for money, unless you value Presto's access to the Foxtel Premiere Movies channel.
Meanwhile, FetchTV is a Personal Video Recorder designed to record free-to-air digital television. It starts at $10 per month but you can also sign up for a range of online Pay TV packages similar to Foxtel Play -- plus there's the option to rent new release movies.
The FetchTV box is only available from a handful of Internet Service Providers (iiNet, Internode, Adam Internet, Westnet, TransACT and Optus). This might improve with the spread of the National Broadband Network. Its movie offerings aren't nearly as impressive as Foxtel's, but it's worth noting that FetchTV does include a library of 30 free movies, with seven new titles every week. There's a mix of old and new movies which might be enough to satisfy some homes when combined with the occasional rental.
The big guns of Australian online movie rentals, Apple and Bigpond, are yet to offer all-you-can-eat subscription services. Watching Apple movie rentals or TV show purchases on your television requires the $109 Apple TV, which can tap directly into the iTunes store or stream from iTunes running on a computer or iGadget. Apple's library is considered Australia's most extensive, although it's not hard to tap into the US iTunes store where movies are a little cheaper and available sooner.
Meanwhile Bigpond Movies is available via Telstra's T-Box Personal Video Recorder, letting you rent movies and TV shows. Along with free-to-air digital television, the T-Box also offers access to a handful of Bigpond Video streaming channels as well as Foxtel's Play service. You can only buy or rent a T-Box if Bigpond is your ISP -- in which case Bigpond content is unmetered so it doesn't count towards your monthly download limit. Non-Bigpond customers can still access Bigpond Movies via their computer or a handful of Samsung and LG Smart TVs and Blu-ray players.
The Hoyts Stream movie service is expected to launch in Australia later this year, but until then the only other significant movie rental services come from tech players such as Google, YouTube, Samsung, Sony and Microsoft. Google Play offers both movies and TV shows in Australia but it's also limited to computers and handheld devices unless you import Google's Chromecast media player (although there are reports that it might be coming to Australia). You'll also find a handful of clunky Android media players from the likes of Kogan.
Both Samsung and Sony offer movie rental services for their internet-enabled televisions, Blu-ray players and Android devices. Sony's service also extends to desktop computers along with its lounge room and portable PlayStation consoles which can also tap into Quickflix. Meanwhile Xbox 360 owners can access Xbox Live movies, Quickflix and Foxtel Play, although the last two are yet to come to the Xbox One.
Of course if you're prepared to bend the rules and do a little geo-dodging, it's not hard to tap into US services such as Netflix and HuluPlus. The Apple TV offers the easiest way to watch them on your television, but with a little extra trickery you can get these services running on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and some Smart TVs and Blu-ray players. There's more work involved in running them via an imported Chromecast or Roku player.
An expensive also-ran?
Netflix's strength is television shows rather than movies, but it isn't the Holy Grail of online video. If you're expecting unlimited access to everything that's ever screened then you're setting yourself up for disappointment. It can't match Presto's collection of recent premium movies, nor can it match Foxtel Play's spread of premium TV and movie content.
Of course at $US7.99 per month, plus the cost of a VPN or DNS-based workaround for geoblocking, Netflix works out much cheaper than any of Foxtel's offerings. Netflix is roughly the same price as Quickflix and, while Netflix offers a more extensive library, Quickflix is working hard to strengthen its relationships with the major US content providers.
When you weigh up the competition, both foreign and domestic, Foxtel's Presto has a difficult road ahead. It looks likely to remain an expensive also-ran until it can at least compete head-to-head in the lounge room rather than languishing on computers and tablets.