Foxtel Now was supposed to be the solution to all of Foxtel's problems — a new streaming service with a new identity, for all Australians. And, for a while, it was great. But come last night and come Game of Thrones, it died. And now the arguments of pirates, so close to being comprehensively defeated, restart anew.
Overnight, Foxtel gave its streaming video service a new name. The prices are the same. But this is just the first step in a huge transformation in the way Foxtel works and how it sits in Australia's media landscape.
This is partly understandable. Unprecedented demand crashed HBO's streaming service, HBO Now, in the US. Unprecedented makes sense — it's the second last season of the world's most popular television show — but that's not the same thing as unexpected.
Foxtel's network engineers should have forecasted unprecedented demand. They should have expected it. And because they didn't, expectant customers were disappointed.
Foxtel Now has had a relatively easy honeymoon period for its launch — no huge event TV to stress test the servers it's carried across from the days when it was called Foxtel Play and Foxtel Go. Six weeks since it debuted with fanfare, Game of Thrones has made it fall over. What happens when The Walking Dead, equally popular, comes back while Game of Thrones is also being streamed?
Foxtel's media department issued a mea culpa late last night, in a press release titled "Game of Thrones Phenomenon Crash Sites Across the Globe!" It mentioned the fact that the number of viewers had sent even HBO into a tailspin. But what else could you do, apart from apologise for your service?
Foxtel spends $1.6 billion on content every year. Foxtel has the best breadth and depth of content in Australia. Foxtel outspends its competitors Netflix and Stan by more than 10 times when it comes to acquiring first-run, premiere TV shows and movies like Game of Thrones. And Foxtel has an excellent infrastructure cable TV network, and has had for years.
But it still doesn't have the streaming product that we want to use. They've tried to fix it, but they still screwed up. And it'll get better with time, as it has in the past — from HD streaming to 4K streaming, offline downloads, and so on. Foxtel has promised as much. But pirates' arguments only need the smallest provocation to consider themselves justified.
For what it's worth, when I wanted to watch Game of Thrones last night, I went to bed and switched on my TV and powered on my PS4, jumped into the Foxtel Now app and navigated to Game of Thrones. And it worked! The streaming quality was alright — not up to the standards of a pirated 1080p copy, but more convenient. And convenience is the keystone, the lynchpin, for Foxtel Now. It's even in the name. Now. When your service crashes, when it isn't now, that's when people are right to complain.
And that's when people will pirate Game of Thrones, and feel justified in doing it.
When I wrote how laughably easy it was to get around Australia's site blocking laws, I got an email from John Jarratt — y'know, Mick Taylor from Wolf Creek — "if you're good at it, it's easy to break into a car in 30 seconds and steal it. Does that make it right because you can?"
That argument doesn't hold sway with pirates, though. A lot of People On The Internet, who like me grew up with Limewire and Kazaa and Usenet and Bit-Torrent, need reasons not to pirate. Piracy is their default. Netflix's Australian launch ticked the right boxes: price, availability of content, reliability. Foxtel Now has an affordable tier, and it has so much content, but it's not reliable. Not after last night.
Imagine another world: imagine an alternate history where Foxtel Now didn't shit the bed last night. Imagine the press release we'd be writing about instead! "Foxtel Now Had Its Busiest Night Ever". "Foxtel Now Proved Itself Streaming Game Of Thrones." "Foxtel Now Finally Proves That Streaming Is The Answer To Piracy".
"Foxtel Now Has Left Pirates Dead In The Water".