Remember when you turned on the TV and choose from one of a half-dozen channels? When I collapse into the couch these days I need a universal remote to switch inputs between no less than three home entertainment devices, sometimes more, and I usually have a tablet on my lap just in case "there's nothing on”.
If this sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not; in fact I love the vast choice I have at my disposal. But, like you, I have limited time and a limited budget for these sorts of things, so it’s more important now to make a few smart choices about which TV service occupies my living room.
Chances are you’ll know people who pay for either Foxtel or Netflix, or both, and if you’re contemplating signing up yourself, you’re probably wondering which is better for you.
Price of admission
Before we get into the content on offer from both Foxtel and Netflix, it’s wise to start by talking about the price.
Foxtel’s pricing is tiered, with the cheapest, compulsory Entertainment plan costing $25 per month. On top of this subscribers choose from combinations from Drama, Movies, Sport, Documentaries, Entertainment Plus and Kids; meaning your Foxtel bill will vary depending on your TV tastes. The complete bundle, known as Platinum, costs $125 per month.
Netflix seems simpler and cheaper, but there a couple of extra costs to factor in. A subscription costs a flat $12 per month. but you also need an active internet connection with enough speed and data included for uninterrupted use. Expect to pay at least $40 per month for this.
Because Netflix was only recently launched in Australia, it has gained a mythic reputation for being the Holy Grail of TV and movies. If you haven’t seen it before, you’d be forgiven for imaging it is a service that has anything and everything. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Netflix manages to keep its prices low by only holding content licenses for a certain number of releases at any one time, and by not paying for the rights to stream recent release movies or the most current TV shows.
This isn’t to say that there you won’t find thousands of great shows on Netflix, but it does mean you won’t find movies until about 8 or 9 months after they have been available to buy on DVD and iTunes. It’s the same with TV series; there are dozens of complete seasons to watch streaming on Netflix, but some of the most popular shows are several seasons behind broadcast TV, and others (especially HBO shows) are not available at all.
Where Netflix shines is in its curated collections of classics and favourites. Searching through the vast library is often like a fond trip down memory lane. At the time of writing this section includes the Godfather Trilogy, Scarface, The Big Lebowski, Rocky, in addition to dozens of cheesy, grind-house horror movies and goofy comedies.
In contrast, Foxtel customers can watch new movies and TV shows much sooner. Popular new releases tend to be available as soon as they as on DVD, and many of the most exciting new TV shows are shown ‘ Express from the U.S.’ or on the same day they are broadcast overseas.
If you want new content sooner, Foxtel is the best way to go.
The recent additions of Foxtel's new BoxSets channel makes it even more compelling for this kind of content. BoxSets is a catalogue of complete TV series, all episodes, and is perfect for a weekend-long TV binge. At launch it contains all episodes of Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Dexter, True Blood, Band of Brothers and several others. It is available on its own for $10 per month, or as part of the 'Drama' channel pack.
Foxtel also cycles through old cinemas favourites, but doesn’t maintain such a huge catalogue. In November 2014, the Foxtel Movie Guide lists between 450 and 500 movies which will be broadcast throughout the month, and are available On-Demand to download to the IQ set-top box.
Customers subscribing to the ‘Movies’ package get access to all of these titles, for $20 per month. For the latest TV shows, customers will also need to subscribe to the ‘Drama’ pack for an additional $20 per month, bringing the monthly total to $65 for both packs plus a basic subscription.
In my opinion, one area where Netflix outshines Foxtel is in its catalogue of Documentaries. Despite Foxtel having 10 channels in the ‘Docos’ pack, it is easier to uncover some truly amazing true stories when connected to the Netflix service.
Sport lovers need to plug into Foxtel, though, as there is zero live sport on Netflix (and if there was, you can be sure it'd be Baseball and American Football).
Modes of Access
The core Foxtel service is delivered over cable or satellite to your home, and doesn’t require an internet connection at all — which is great if you don’t want to pay for home broadband. In recent times, Foxtel has expanded its capabilities using internet data, so if you do have a web connection, there are now several different ways to watch. On Demand lets you watch shows you have missed, and there is a movie rental section for New Releases. Foxtel Go is an app for computers and tablets which lets you stream live TV and catch up TV for when you’re not sitting in your living room. This is available to all subscribers and is a great way for different members of your family to watch different things around the house.
Foxtel is also available on game consoles, like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and 4, and third-party hardware like the Telstra T-Box, but it is important to point out that this isn’t the same Foxtel you get over cable. This is called Foxtel Play and it requires a completely separate subscription, and the service doesn’t feature all of the channels and packs available in the core service.
Netflix is entirely online and can be viewed on any web browser that supports Microsoft Silverlight (which is most browsers on desktop computers and laptops). Beyond this, Netflix has apps on a number of different platforms, like iOS and Android, Apple TV, Xbox and PlayStation, and a number of Smart TVs. You always need an active internet connection and plenty of data to download the shows.
We have a winner?
Despite the title of this article being Foxtel vs Netflix, I’d argue the best way to look at these services is as being complementary to one another. Foxtel is Australia’s best source for up to date movies and TV, Sports, reality TV and music channels. It is comparably expensive, but you’ll see the value in paying for Foxtel if you love watching TV.
Netflix is great for a quick fix. You can start watching the early episodes of most of the big name TV shows, even if you can’t keep up to date, and its movie selection has always managed to put a smile on my face. It is dirt cheap and delivers tonnes of content for movie buffs and TV junkies alike. There are dozens of great docos to enjoy and the Netflix discovery algorithm does an amazing job of uncovering new things to try based on the movies you’ve enjoyed so far.
So, if you’re happy to spend $60 a month for the latest movies and TV, perhaps consider making it $70 per month and having Netflix on hand for popcorn-fueled movie marathons. You’ll definitely get more use out of Foxtel, day to day, but Netflix has enough great titles to be worth it’s cheap monthly fee.