In a move certain to drive piracy, Foxtel has quietly tied up the local rights to The Walking Dead to stop Australians buying this season week-by-week on iTunes, Google Play or Fetch TV.
Fans of The Walking Dead have more to fear than zombies, with Foxtel determined to ensure there is no other legit way to watch the show week-by-week in Australia.
The Walking Dead returned to television on Sunday night in the US, with Foxtel simulcasting the Season 7 debut on Monday afternoon in Australia as it does with several popular shows including HBO's Game of Thrones. Things looked pretty grim for our heroes at the end of the Season 6 cliffhanger, bowing before Negan, but some Australians will be forced to wait until next year to learn the outcome – unless they're prepared to bend or break the rules.
This year Foxtel has quietly struck a GoT-style deal with The Walking Dead's producers AMC and local distributor eOne to give the pay TV giant exclusive rights over Season 7 until it has finished screening the entire season. You won't see new episodes on the Presto subscription service, only via a Foxtel home subscription or Foxtel Play. The Walking Dead screens on Foxtel's FX channel, which is part of Foxtel Play's current $25 p/m Drama package and will be included in the $15 p/m Pop package after December's pricing revamp.
Judging by previous seasons, that means Australians won't be able to buy even the first episode of Season 7 from iTunes, Google Play or Fetch TV until April next year – perhaps longer if Apple spits the dummy and holds out for longer as it did when Foxtel pulled the same stunt with Game of Thrones back in 2014. Alternatively you'll probably need to wait until August 2017 to buy Season 7 on disc.
You might argue that paying Foxtel Play $25 per month works out at roughly $6 per episode, which isn't that much more expensive than buying each episode, but that's not the point. The point is that once again Foxtel has punished people who were doing the right thing and paying for The Walking Dead rather than stealing it, yet it still has the temerity to complain about piracy. The move comes as Foxtel Play attempts to win over subscribers by offering free access to the first episodes of new HBO shows like Westworld.
As far as I can tell Foxtel and The Walking Dead's backers didn't even have the decency to publicly announce this season's changes. Fans have been left in the dark and I'm still waiting for replies to my enquiries, although it has been confirmed on The Walking Dead's official Australian Facebook page after angry fans demanded answers at to why the latest episode isn't available on iTunes.
On the Australian iTunes store, you've previously been able to pay $2.49 for standard-def episodes or $3.49 for high-definition – so Aussies will be slugged with a price hike if they switch to Foxtel Play but they'll lose the ability to watch the show in high-definition. Foxtel Play aims to add HD streaming next year but right now the only legal way for Australians to watch The Walking Dead in HD is to sign up for a home Foxtel package.
The new season of The Walking Dead is already available on the US iTunes store and it's not that difficult for Australians to create a US iTunes account and pay in greenbacks using US iTunes vouchers. You might be breaking the terms and conditions by sneaking across the border, just like Australians bluffing their way into the US Netflix library, but at least you're still a paying customer.
Alternatively some fans of The Walking Dead who've been burned by the new Foxtel deal will feel completely justified in turning to the BitTorrent channel in order to watch Season 7, rather than rewarding Foxtel with their money or messing around with geo-dodging. Australia's laughable anti-piracy efforts are unlikely to deter them.
It's been said time and again that piracy is primarily an issue of pricing and availability – most people will do the right thing if you offer them a fair deal. It's tempting to lay all the blame for this situation on Foxtel, but The Walking Dead's producers and distributors also share the blame for agreeing to the deal which screws over loyal Australian viewers who have been playing by the rules. US viewers can buy episodes on iTunes, but once again Australians are treated as second-class digital citizens there to be fleeced.
Has Foxtel's new The Walking Dead deal left you in the lurch? How will you get your zombie fix this season?