Foxtel was struggling to survive before COVID-19 but the lack of sport is speeding up its demise
By Andrew Robertson
Posted 4 hours ago, updated31 minutes ago
Composite of Australian pay television providers Foxtel and Austar logos
Foxtel has about 2.9 million unique subscribers and this has hardly changed since Kayo and Foxtel Now were launched.(AAP)
Under siege from much cheaper rivals and with lenders unwilling to support it, pay TV operator Foxtel is increasingly looking like a threatened species.
Foxtel has slashed at least 250 jobs and now COVID-19 is adding to its pressures
Subscriber growth has stalled and the pay TV service is carrying more than $2 billion in debt
Industry experts say its fate depends on how long News Corp is willing to keep bailing out its debts
Subscriber growth has stalled, losses are mounting and it’s carrying more than $2 billion in debt.
Cox Media founder, Peter Cox, told ABC News Foxtel’s revenues had been in decline for the past five to 10 years.
“But now of course, it’s being threatened with extinction,” he said.
As its fortunes decline, Foxtel has slashed at least 250 jobs, and now COVID-19 is adding to its woes.
Thanks to the pandemic, Foxtel’s biggest drawcard, sport, is gone.
With the AFL, NRL and other leading sports all shuttered, there’s nothing to show.
“They always had a problem in the summer, because they didn’t have good sports coverage in the summer,” Mr Cox said.
“Now, not to have good sports coverage in the winter is an absolute killer for them.”
Also hurting Foxtel is its pricing structure.
In the next few weeks, the company will unveil a new, much cheaper offering, called Binge, to compete effectively with the new players stealing its turf.
Foxtel is too expensive
Foxtel prices compared with other streaming services are just too expensive.
Netflix prices start at $9.99 a month.
There are now 12 million Australians that have access to Netflix, which is more than double the 5 million who have access to Foxtel.
Netflix has been in Australia five years, Foxtel 25 years.
Stan is a cent more than Netflix at $10 a month.
Amazon Prime costs $6.99 a month and Apple TV $7.99 a month.
By comparison, Foxtel’s cheapest streaming package is Kayo Sports at $25 a month.
Entertainment app, Foxtel Now, also starts at $25 a month, while the cheapest cable package is $49 a month.
Long-time media and telco analyst Paul Budde believes it’s a potentially terminal issue for Foxtel.
He says within three years, Foxtel will have to completely change its business model.
“[It could] become like another Netflix, or, you know, another model that they may think of, otherwise I don’t think they will survive for much longer,” Mr Budde said.
But becoming like Netflix presents its own challenges for Foxtel, for revenue, which is being cannibalised by its own Kayo Sports and Foxtel Now.
Foxtel has about 2.9 million unique subscribers and this has hardly changed since Kayo and Foxtel Now were launched.
However, together the two streaming services have around 700,000 customers while cable subscriptions have fallen by that amount.
The problem for Foxtel is that Kayo and Foxtel Now customers pay around half the cost of a cable subscription, while Foxtel continues to pay the full cost of program content, such as sport.
“The Kayo product, and this was pre-COVID, was a good product launch,” says the chief executive of media consultancy Venture Insights, Nigel Pugh.
“We had concerns that it would ultimately lead to cannibalisation, but there’s no doubt about it that they had to do it to remain competitive.”
Coronavirus limits discretionary spending
Adding to Foxtel’s dilemma is the devastation COVID-19 is causing to the economy and the impact it will have on discretionary spending, such as on pay TV.
“Foxtel is expensive as a subscription service, so you will see more and more people copping out of Foxtel because they are not using it, or sport is no longer there, which is what they wanted it for,” Mr Budde said.
And if that isn’t enough, there are other external threats looming on the horizon as the pay TV industry continues to evolve.
“There’s still the potential for HBO to launch its own HBO max service, as Disney had,” Mr Pugh said.
“There’s also the potential for the sporting organisations themselves to offer their content direct to consumers.”
Mr Pugh believes it would be particularly hard for Foxtel to survive that, if it happens.
Line chart showing Australia’s current Covid-19 growth factor of 0.88 as of April 28 2020
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The biggest immediate threat comes from Foxtel’s majority shareholder, News Corporation, which owns 65 per cent. Telstra owns the other 35 per cent.
The two owners recently kicked in nearly $900 million to keep Foxtel afloat, with $700 million coming from News Corp.
So, what may decide Foxtel’s ultimate fate is how long Rupert Murdoch is willing to keep bailing it out.
A decision Mr Cox says will come in the next two years.
“They have to make the decision,” he said.
“Do they cut and run and lose the billion dollars plus they’ve got invested in the business, or do they stay in there and keep on putting hundreds of millions in there, if not another billion dollars for its survival?”
In the meantime, Foxtel is sweating on the NRL leading the sporting world back onto the field, and viewers back to their screens.