Foxtel launches 'Next Generation' download service

New channels, HD all part of pay offerings

SYDNEY -- Aussie paynet Foxtel Tuesday launched a TV and movie download service as part of its multimillion-dollar rollout of new channels and services under the moniker Foxtel Next Generation.

CEO Kim Williams called the move “the biggest set of changes to Australian television since the launch of Foxtel digital in 2004."

The key new technology is the Foxtel Download service, the paynet’s version of the BBC’s iPlayer, which allows subscribers PC access to 38 channels and over 400 hours of TV and movie programming to download also free of charge. ESPN’s 360 channel will stream as part of the Foxtel download service, while its upcoming multichannel coverage of the Vancouver Winter Olympics will also be part of the service.

In addition, 12 new standard definition and 15 new high definition channels will be introduced, and movie tiers will be expanded from 12 to 18 channels on November 15.

Among the new channels to come to the Australian market for the first time will be Comcast’s Style Network, Europsort, KidsCo, NBC Universal’s 13th Street Murder, a mystery drama channel and Discovery Turbo Max and Nat Geo Wild. 

Also, The Premium Movie Partnership, whose partners include 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Sony, NBC Universal and Liberty Global will repackage its movie service to include main channels, including Showtime, Showtime Comedy, Showtime Action and Showtime Drama. 

Rival movie service the Movie Network Channels, a partnership between Warner Bros, Village Roadshow, Disney, MGM and Dreamworks, have created several new channels including FMC, the Family Movie Channel, and Starpics, billed as “Hollywood's biggest stars," to add to its Movie One, Movie Greats and Movie Extra line up.

At the same time the paynet’s On Demand movie service, Foxtel Box Office will increase to 40 channels from 25. 

New Lifestyle Channel spin off, Lifestyle You, skewed to younger women, will be the only locally produced channel to launch among the new services.  

Foxtel’s premium high-definition service, will expand from five to 15 HD channels with many of the new movie services announced to be simulcast in HD. General entertainment channels UKTV (owned an operated by BBC Worldwide here), Fox8 and W, all three Fox Sports channels, along with movie channels Showtime Premiere, Showcase, Showtime Action, Movie One and Starpics will join the HD channel line up. 

Elsewhere, Foxtel said it will provide all new subscribers taking a value package – upwards of AUS$72 (US$63) per month – with a Foxtel iQ digital video recorder at no charge, in a bid to drive penetration of DVRs to 100% within two years. Around 50% of Foxtel’s 1.63 million subscribers currently have an iQ installed. 

While Williams wouldn’t comment on additional costs to the business he said it was a key investment in technology and programming, the gives subscribers “great portability, adaptability and even better value." 

At the same time, regional pay-TV operator Austar said it would also launch new channels and a new HD service in line with the Foxtel announcement, on November 15.

CEO John Porter said he expected the additional services, with fixed costs to Austar of around $22 million and additional capital costs to add around AUS$3.60 per month to subscribers' fees and would help drive down churn. He said Austar was on track to reach 750,000 subscribers by the end of the calendar year, and added that new channels and services announced Tuesday would counter the free to air networks Freeview digital terrestrial platform which had “taken the high ground” this year with the launch of several new channels. 

However, Porter said that the industry needed to “step up our efforts to acquire customers and get to 40% penetration as quickly as possible," before the federal government’s new National Broadband Network is built. The NBN, he said, will provide both threats and opportunities for the pay sector. Pay-TV penetration in Australia is currently around 31%.