Business Analysis

Another day, another Foxtel service

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The release date of Hubbl is expected to be announced soon (Screenshot via YouTube)

Foxtel is launching a new device that will streamline viewers' subscription services and free-to-air broadcasting services in one neat package. Paul Budde reports.

THE FOXTEL GROUP has launched yet another service, this one based on the so-called Hubbl. This is a small set-top box, a streaming entertainment device designed to simplify the user experience for live TV, free-to-air channels and subscription-based streaming services.

Similar devices include: Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire Stick. These are internet-connected devices for the display of broadcasting and streaming media on people’s televisions via the TV’s HDMI connection.

Foxtel is 65% owned by News Corp and 35% owned by Telstra. Over the years, Foxtel has moved further away from its very lucrative pay TV service. Confronted with fierce competition from Netflix and others, it has made several attempts to enter the video streaming market — albeit reluctantly, trying to avoid cannibalising its pay TV service.

However, most of the time, the new services offered were priced well above those of its competitors. What has consistently saved Foxtel in the end has been its sports services (NBA, NFL, NRL, AFL, F1, cricket, Supercars, UFC and football). The majority of Foxtel pay TV customers were willing to pay a premium price to have access to their favourite sporting games.

Streaming subscriptions still only make up 29% of Foxtel's revenue. The most successful alternative service Foxtel has offered is Kayo, a live video streaming service aimed at sporting events. It has over one million users and, as such, is the largest sports streaming service in Australia. It is a premium service with premium prices, so its overall share of the Australian streaming market remains rather low.

Last year, it introduced the Sky Glass TV which included the company's new streaming aggregation platform. Users of the Sky Glass TV could use a combination of free-to-air, streaming, internet and subscription (pay TV) services. Other platforms based on aggregation include Optus SubHub and Telstra/Fetch.

So, this time it looks like you can also access that platform using its new set-top box. This device, priced at $99, aims to offer a superior user interface compared to existing smart TVs and streaming devices. While not explicitly branded as “Foxtel”, Hubbl integrates the company's offerings like Binge (movies and TV shows) and Kayo Sports.

Furthermore, it also integrates other streaming apps like Netflix, Disney+, and Prime Video, video sharing platform YouTube, Apple TV+ and Paramount+. Last but not least it also integrates all of the free-to-air broadcasting services available in Australia.

However, the individual services do carry the normal extra subscription charges. There is a discount for a bundled service but is unclear if this is only for the Foxtel services or if it also includes any of the other streaming services.

It also looks like the Sky Glass TV has now been replaced by Hubbl Glass, a television with built-in Hubbl software. The accompanying television will retail for $1,595 (55") and $1,995 (65"). These TVs also include the streaming platform, offering an alternative to the set-top box. The price of these new TVs leans towards the premium end of the smart TV market — the more popular budget smart TVs are priced between $300 and $700.

Other features of the TV include universal search, voice control and content aggregation. Discounts may apply for bundling multiple services.

While the service offers a neat one-stop solution, the question remains if customers need a set-top box or a new TV to access the free-to-air and streaming services that are available in Australia. Most people are by now used to navigating these services on their current TVs or through Apple TV and Google Chromecast. However, in the premium smart TV market, the new Hubbl Glass will certainly be a consideration for people looking for TVs in this segment.

Paul Budde is an Independent Australia columnist and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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