Years ago, when I was living at the beach, I took a call from a Foxtel pimp, trying to get me to sign up to a pay-TV deal. Not even tempted. Cable was still pretty new in those days and I asked this unctious spiv whether I'd be able to get stuff on demand. He mocked me for my naïveté. He would still mock me, I'd wager, although nowadays he'd probably lie and try and sell me a line of shit about all the different ways Foxtel pretends it can deliver what you want to watch, when you want to see it.
It can't. It's still way behind my wishful thinking. Not that it matters much to me, because the number of shows I have queued up on my magic box is shameful. I only just finished watching season two of Falling Skies. (More of which in a separate blog.)
Dom Knight had a great essay over at Fairfax yesterday about his idea of a perfect TV service. It's not far from my own hopes and dreams all the way back at the beach.
What I want with TV and movies is what I have with music now – the capacity to watch whatever I want instantly, at high quality, on any device, with a well-designed, convenient interface. I want instant gratification at a lowish price – something like $10 or $20 a month instead of the more than $100 a month that Foxtel wants to charge. Let’s say that I’d gladly pay up to $50 a month for all the music, TV and movies I could stream via any device. Give me that, and I’ll gladly pay it forever.
I've never thought of an all-you-can-eat media buffet before. Something that delivers TV, movies, music, even magazine subscriptions to something like an iPad. As Dom points out in his story we're seeing the outlines of a system like that emerging in the US now, with millions of people cutting the cable to put together their own personalized TV schedule from a mix of Netflix, Hulu plus and/or iTunes. (I'm not sure, but it could be that in the US at least Hulu comes as an option on iTunes). And millions more, of course, doing the same through teh torrentz.
The streaming options closer to home, unsurprisingly, are abysmal, perhaps accounting for the unusually high incidence of piracy here.
His piece is worth reading because of its deft understanding of history, technology, and psychology. But the thing I took away from it was the idea of the all you can eat buffet. How much would I pay for something like that? If I had to cobble it together from bits and pieces, as I sort of do at the moment, I guess it would cost me about $200 a month. Way too much, even for my profligate ways. I suspect most people would top out at about fifty or sixty dollars a month. The entry level basic cable price. I'd probably be happy paying a hunnert or so. It's still a lot less than I'm paying now for my premium Foxtel subscription, which in some ways is getting worse as time goes by.
For all of their crowing about delivering first-run TV within a couple of hours of the show's airing in the US – and it is something to crow about – Foxtel have recently reorganized their premium movie channels in such a way as to offer less choice for the same price.
Somewhere in his essay, Dom speculates about how devastating it would be to the local TV ecology for an apex predator like Netflix to turn up here.
There are currently too many players and formats and none offers enough of everything at a sufficiently cheap price. In particular, Foxtel seems to be trying to offer lots of different ways to watch live TV, via iPad and X-Box 360 and TBox and several other devices, without embracing the need to build a system that does proper on-demand streaming of their shows. Personally, I don’t care about channels, I don’t want schedules, I don’t need hard disk recording. I just want a mass of content that has every good show from today or the past, streaming immediately, in high definition, on any device.
If this ever happened, I'd expect at least one of the free to air networks, either Ten or Nine, to be out of business within about eighteen months.