'Game of Thrones' to Headline Foxtel Streaming Service Down Under

Macall B. Polay

Non-pay TV subscribers will be able to stream the HBO hit show exclusively through Foxtel Play for a nominal fee for the period it is on the air.

SYDNEY - Australian pay TV giant Foxtel  will use its exclusive acquisition of Game of Thrones to drive usage of its online and streaming platforms, as well as subscriptions to its main broadcast service, when season 4 premieres here on Apr. 7, just hours after its U.S. premiere.

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Billing it as the biggest drama event of 2014, Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein announced Tuesday that the new season of the hit HBO series -- seen here on Foxtel's premium drama channel Showcase -- will be made available to Internet users who aren’t Foxtel subscribers through the Foxtel Play streaming service at a $10-a-month discount to the usual movies package.

In addition, subscribers to the main Foxtel pay TV service can also buy Showcase as a standalone channel for the duration of the show's run if they don't take the movies and premium drama tier. This is the first time Foxtel has ever offered subscribers the opportunity to buy a premium channel outside the tier or package the channel is part of.

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"Foxtel is committed to offering ever-improving access and availability to the entertainment our customers love. Game of Thrones is one of the most popular programs in the world, and is a favorite among Australian viewers," Freudenstein said.

"Foxtel's agreement with HBO means we can provide our customers with first-run access to Game of Thrones season 4, along with a great library of movies from the Foxtel Movies channels, which we’re thrilled to offer Foxtel Play customers at a special rate during season 4 of this landmark show."

The move comes after the paynet last year acquired exclusive rights to the series from HBO in a deal which prevents episodes being provided for download on iTunes or other streaming services the day after broadcast. GoT fans widely criticized Foxtel for locking them out of the show on internet forums -- now they can see it for $35 a month, and there's an opportunity for Foxtel to provide a  "try and buy" service to viewers beyond its subscription base.

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Foxtel has around 32 percent penetration of Australian TV homes, a number which has plateaued in recent years.

The Game of Thrones strategy is also seen as a counter to the potential entry into Australia of services like Netflix and Hulu -- which have been touted here for several years now but with no significant moves announced -- and it aims to undermine the extensive piracy that exists here, with buzz shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones downloaded illegally by Australians in world-record numbers, according to TorrentFreak.

As it is doing with all of its key dramas, Foxtel will broadcast Game of Thrones under its "Express From the U.S." strategy, with episodes airing within hours of their U.S. East Coast broadcast and minutes earlier than the U.S. West Coast.