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Dan Barrett is an industry commentator & TV critic. He does radio - 4BC & ABC GC and co-hosts the Screen Watching podcast. He's a former Mediaweek deputy editor and content creator for SBS.
Binge has launched in Australia - should you subscribe?
The answer is a pretty firm yes. Here's what you need to know.
The Australian streaming market today saw the launch of a brand new service competing for subscribers eyeballs and credit card details: Binge.
Terrible brand name. Great streaming service.
Binge is a major jump forward for streaming TV viewers in Australia. Where Netflix offers a large volume of new TV series and movies, the new Foxtel streaming service Binge fills a much-needed-to-be-filled gap with established shows and movies that you have likely heard of before. As good as Netflix can be, there’s a need for a streaming service that has the high profile and iconic movies and TV shows that have traditionally dominated our screens. These are the big Hollywood productions that are front of mind when we think about TV and movies.
Binge is Game of Thrones. It’s Seinfeld. It’s Friends… Law & Order, Lord of The Rings, Jurassic Park, etc.
Importantly… Binge is good. It has a strong content library, it is easy to use, well-priced, and is available on a number of platforms. Like in many places around the world now, Australia isn’t short on options for streaming services. If you were to subscribe to only two-three of them, Binge is definitely a top two contender.
All of that said, it’s a shame about the name. Binge. Ugh.
Here’s what you need to know:
How much will I pay?
Previous Foxtel digital services have cost way more than viewers want to pay. As consumers, our view on value for money has shifted. Consider what you get from Netflix and then consider what you get from an entry level Foxtel package at double the price. The value wasn’t there.
With Binge, that has changed. Binge is competitive with Netflix and Stan.
There are three monthly packages:
New subscribers get a 2-week free trial period. And, as you’d expect, it is ad-free.
For comparison: Stan has three packages -$10 for 1 SD stream, $14 for 3 HD streams, and $17 for 4 HD or 4K streams. Netflix offer $9.99 for one SD stream, $13.99 for 2 HD streams, and $19.99 for 4 HD/4K streams.
There will be some whinging from tech-minded subscribers that there is no 4K plan available. And that’s a reasonable complaint for 2020.
How can I watch it?
Previously, Foxtel has been terrible at delivering its streaming services across all of the major platforms. The company has learned a lot from its launch of sports streamer Kayo and will launch Binge into the market across a bunch of popular platforms.
At launch it will be available on:
Mobile & tablet (Android/iOS)
Web - Chrome, Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Firefox
Not supported at launch: Samsung TV or gaming consoles (ie Playstation and Xbox).
What will there be to watch?
Binge promises 10,000 plus hours at launch with the intention to grow to 20,000+ hours.
New episodes are expected to be added each week as series go to air/are released.
Shows will include full seasons of:
New shows: Mrs. America, Succession, Westworld, Big Little Lies, Breeders, The Plot Against America, The Outsider, Watchmen, Chernobyl
Beloved classics: Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, The Office, Seinfeld, Friends, The Walking Dead, Frasier, Law & Order: SVU, NCIS, Sex & The City, Call The Midwife, Six Feet Under, Project Runway, Planet Earth, Blue Planet, 30 Rock, and Parks & Recreation.
And movies: Big franchise films like Fast & Furious, Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, and DC Universe collections. Plus all-time great movies from directors like Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino.
There’s also some linear channels to watch
This is one of the really odd features on Binge. You can access live streams of the following Foxtel channels:
It’s nice to have access to these channels, but it is strange to find these linear channels streaming on what’s built as an on-demand platform. And there’s no channels on there that you really need live access for. It’s not news or sports.
And speaking of news…
There’s no Sky News or Fox News
One of the big reasons why subscribers are hesitant to subscribe to Foxtel is because of its ownership. The Murdoch family, particularly Rupert and his son Lachlan, have played a significant hand in pushing conservative political agendas across the world via their media holdings. Understandably, there’s a lot of people who aren’t so keen on that.
It may help you to know that neither Sky News and Fox News are streaming on the service. In fact, you won’t find the Foxtel name anywhere on Binge. So, yes, you’re contributing to the Murdoch’s, but you’re not supporting a platform carrying their weaponised conservative news programs.
So, there’s that at least.
Okay - that all sounds good. Where’s the ‘But…’
I think all of this does sound pretty good, but there’s a couple of things to consider:
Don’t expect to find “Every episode ever” for some of the shows. For example, Foxtel/Binge has a deal with NBC Universal which gives them access to great titles like Law & Order: SVU. Currently streaming: just seasons 8, 9, and 10 of SVU. The show is airing its 21st season this year.
That isn’t to say that other shows don’t have every episode ever (for example, Seinfeld and 30 Rock are complete). But it’s not something that applies to all titles.
What’s behind the decision to not offer 4K? Is it a feature we’ll see later in the product journey, or have they purposefully left that as a premium Foxtel-only feature? If it is the latter, then that cuts to the core of a pretty big problem. If Binge is the future, then why haven’t they included a viewing resolution that has been offered on reasonably-priced TVs in Australia for five years now?
The UI is attractive, but it’s pretty clunky in places. Scrolling on the Apple TV (4th model) isn’t as smooth as it should be - It seemed especially bumpy when shifting from shelves of content (the rows of movies and TV on the screen) and the larger cards promoting individual shows/collections.
This is mid-scroll on the iPhone app for Binge and it works really smoothly there. So, I’m sure the Apple TV scroll is a wrinkle they’ll iron out.
I mentioned the streaming linear channels. Where are they? The only way to find them is to click on shows and scroll all of the way to the bottom of the shows section to find them listed. It’s just a bit awkward for something that is supposedly a feature of Binge.
Signing in to the Apple TV app is incredibly awkward. You can’t just login with your email and password. Instead you need to go to the URL https://auth.streamotion.com.au/activate to type in the code that will sync your account with the Apple TV. Couldn’t they have given us a shorter URL?
Also, if I can put on my marketing hat for a moment, how confusing is this brand experience? To sign into the Binge product, you need to visit corporate parent Streamotion (a Foxtel-owned company). And below that information? They’ve forgotten to update the product name to Binge on screen - during the building of the platform it was internally named Project Ares. You can see here they’re still asking you to create an account for Ares…
Enough nitpicking - but there is one genuinely disappointing aspect to Binge
Not every streaming service can be everything to all people. Plus this is day one of a catalogue and not completely representative of what the library will look like one week from now, one month from now, one year from now. However…
It’s a shame that there isn’t many older TV shows and movies in the catalogue. Looking around I found a couple of films from the 70s, but no older. And most of the shows are from the 90s onwards. And that’s fine - I get that this is in line with what most subscribers would want to watch.
Foxtel/Binge just signed a big deal with WarnerMedia to access its catalogue. Obviously, I don’t know the terms of that deal or what content specifically was on offer as part of it, but Warner Bros have such a long history of creating some of the world’s most recognisable movies & TV - why aren’t we seeing older gear?
There’d be a great opportunity to create a shelf of Hollywood classics. Even if it was just 5-10 films that rotated in and out each month. Just something to make those films accessible and feed the tastes of the (no doubt) smaller audience who would like that mixed into their viewing diet.
Binge will eat into some of Foxtel’s subscriber base. It has a lot of the same content at a cheaper price. But there’s also two different audiences. There are audiences who grew up with linear TV as the way they consume and aren’t really interested in switching to an on-demand viewing environment. They’ll stick with Foxtel for the time being.
If you are someone who wants on-demand, streaming TV. Right now, Binge is a top two product.
I was texting with a friend this morning who was checking out Binge and he said that “there’s literally dozens of shows I want to watch on here”. And that’s the thing - it’s a really good library of content. This is a library of big name TV and movies - the HBO library is second to none, and it’s finally available to everyone at a very reasonable price.
Should you subscribe to Binge? I think you should definitely sign up for a trial. And if you stick with it beyond two weeks I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
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