‘Significant’: Why Foxtel is parting ways with four BBC channels as they continue to ‘review content mix’

The BBC-produced <i>Call the Midwife</i> has always been a primetime winner in the TV ratings in Australia.

The BBC-produced Call the Midwife has always been a primetime winner in the TV ratings in Australia. Photo: BBC

Watching your favourite TV series is about to get a little more cat and mouse as media giant Foxtel Group parts ways with four BBC channels.

From July 31, BBC Earth, BBC First, BBC News and CBeebies will leave Foxtel and BINGE, leaving audiences in a bind as to how they’ll be able to watch new seasons of shows including Call the Midwife, Death in Paradise and The Sixth Commandment.

It is also parting ways with US cable network, A&E, which is reportedly set to remove three of its biggest brands, including The History Channel, A&E and Crime + Investigations.

The forecast also looks grim for HBO shows such House of the Dragon, Game of Thrones, Euphoria and The Last of Us when Warner Bros. Discovery launches its own Max streaming platform in Australia early next year.

Foxtel currently has 4.5 million subscribers, with News Corp owning a 65 per cent stake and Telstra, 35 per cent.

In a statement, it says the group “regularly review the content mix across our platforms and work with our content partners to reduce content duplication and ensure we are providing our customers a selection of quality content across multiple genres based on their preferences”.

So, does this signal an end to the Foxtel model as we know it, as it relies on new kid on the block, Hubbl (a combo of 18 streamers)?

Queensland University of Technology’s Professor Ruari Elkington, who is part of the campus’ Film, Television and Streaming Research Group, says the risk for Foxtel and Binge now lies in the “churn” for consumers.

That is, where the process to subscribe, cancel and re-subscribe elsewhere “is far easier and attractive than ever before”.

“Competition amongst streamers is fierce,” he said.

“For anyone that has tried to call the Foxtel hotline to cancel their subscription, they know that process was made challenging and lengthy, deliberately so, and Foxtel cannot apply that same level of disincentive for their streaming offerings.

“Ultimately, all screen media companies will stand and fall on the strength of their content.

“If sports and high-end drama previously provided by HBO slowly get stripped away, the only avenue left is the high-risk, high-reward path of original programming.”

He says to Foxtel’s credit, it has made serious commitments in  Australian IP with series like Love Me, The Twelve and High Country.

“They take the risk, they own the IP, and they can then drive the viewers to the one place it lives. Keeping them there is a whole other challenge though.”

House of the Dragon returns for season two on Binge on June 17. Photo: Warner Bros.

What does the content mix mean for subscribers?

Foxtel says subscribers will still be able to access British drama and entertainment through the existing partnerships with Sky Studios, ITV, NBC Universal, Warner Bros. Discovery and the ABC.

But is this value for money for consumers given the BBC departures?

“I don’t think Foxtel will reduce prices greatly. It already occupies the ‘premium’ screen position in the minds of Australian audiences,” Elkington said.

He says Foxtel is a strong and recognisable brand that “occupies a niche position in the small Australian domestic market”.

It attracts people willing to pay $100 or more a month for additional content outside what’s offered on the free-to-air networks.

“Sport, and the expensive rights for that sports content, has always been crucial for their success in that mix,” Elkington said.

“In recent times, they have spent big to secure the rights to many cult HBO shows that did not have a natural streaming home in our corner of the world.

“That is all now changing.

“US networks and studios want to experiment with their own streaming platforms. More streamers such as Amazon Prime, Stan and Disney+ are paying big for sports rights and the cost of living is biting hard for many Australians.

“Consequently, the cost of a Foxtel box – or its streaming analogs – is becoming a much harder proposition for many Australians.”

The bosses at BBC headquarters in London have big plans for content for Australian audiences. Photo: Getty

Meanwhile, a BBC Studios spokesperson told The New Daily its business in Australia “is evolving”, inking, at the same time,  a multi-year deal with Foxtel for another channel, BBC UKTV, which offers chat shows, big British events, comedy and drama.

These include Midsomer Murders, Coronation Street, EastEnders, Emmerdale, 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and Father Brown.

However, TV Blackbox says the loss of first-run BBC dramas to Foxtel/Binge will be “significant”, having enjoyed first-run rights since 2013.

The spokesperson reassured TND their focus has been on reaching an agreement with Foxtel for their channels.

“Now that is concluded, we will talk to broadcasters and platforms in Australia about our premium drama titles, which include first runs of Death In Paradise and Call The Midwife.

“Our strong relationship with Fetch TV [Telstra] for our channel brands continues and we recently announced an expanded deal with Sky TV in New Zealand, which adds BBC First to the suite of channels.”

TND has contacted Foxtel for comment.

Topics: BBC
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