Just saw this in today's news, and discussed on TV Tonight website:
FOXTEL is turning the tables on pay-television piracy and putting the heat on the free-to-air networks after signing a landmark deal with US TV giant HBO, maker of the popular hits like Game of Thrones, to give consumers access to shows within hours of them airing in the US market.
In another Australian first, the national pay-TV operator will also launch a new app next month offering subscribers 21 channels on their iPads free of charge, after a successful trial of the technology during the London 2012 Olympics.
The moves come as chief executive Richard Freudenstein, nearly a year into the job, looks to kick-start sluggish subscriber growth in a weak consumer environment.
In a move designed to improve the quality of its service and combat rampant piracy, Foxtel has just inked a deal with HBO which boasts some of the most critically acclaimed and watched dramas on television, including Girls, True Blood, and Veep.
The output agreement locks out free-to-air television and gives Foxtel subscribers exclusive first-run access, with dramas airing on a "broadcast express" basis, closing the window between the US and Australian on-air dates.
The long delay, sometimes up to a year, is one of the main reasons some Australians illegally download shows on the internet before they air on television.
"It's a long-term deal and we get all first-run HBO programming on Foxtel," Mr Freudenstein told The Australian.
"You won't see programs like Boardwalk Empire end up on SBS in a couple of years. It removes their ability to sell in a second window to free-to-air television. That won't happen any more. You won't see those programs on free-to-air.
"When we talk about express from the US we mean it very, very seriously. We're going to be putting things to screen often within hours or 24 hours after their first screening in the US. We think that's a service our customers deserve and we also think that it will continue to attack piracy, which is a big issue in this country."
Mr Freudenstein said when Foxtel aired the second season of Sons of Anarchy within three hours of airing in the US at 3pm, it pulled a "very good audience". Foxtel played it again in prime time to another sizeable audience. The level of illegal downloading for the second season was less than the first season.
"There are people that are always going to steal stuff and we can take legal action against them, but the vast majority of people are illegally downloading because they want to see things as soon as they are available, so we think it's very important to bring that programming to them straight away."
Mr Freudenstein, who would not reveal the length of the contract, has been in tough negotiations with HBO for months after agreeing the deal in principle.
"It's a deal that goes further in terms of rights than many have done in Australia before. We've got all the rights we want for catch-up TV, tablet and IPTV (internet via television) free on demand to customers," he said.
He said the increased cost of the agreement had been budgeted for and was partially offset by bringing the Showcase and Showtime movie channels in-house with Premium Movie Partnership earlier this month.
"We have a very big programming budget and we just have to make sure we manage that budget to pay less for stuff that doesn't make a difference to customers and pay for stuff that does make a difference. In terms of overall programming costs, this is within our planned numbers."
HBO content will premiere on Foxtel's premium drama channel Showcase, which will be marketed as the "home of HBO". Subscribers will also be able to watch a library of classic shows such as The Sopranos and Six Feet Under.
The company will soon move to a new ownership structure when News Limited (publisher of The Australian) lifts its stake to 50 per cent in the company.
Foxtel is targeting "diverse and discerning viewers" who typically watch dramas and documentaries on ABC and SBS channels after tying up sports fans with new deals for the National Rugby League and Australian Football League.
The strategy is one plank in Mr Freudenstein's armoury as he attempts to increase Foxtel's penetration of Australian households from about 34 per cent to 50 by 2017, and convince prudent Australian consumers that Foxtel is a premium service worth paying for.
Mr Freudenstein is renegotiating deals with Hollywood studios to simplify Foxtel's channel mix and allow it to offer new price points and packages. It will also mean a slight increase in prices.
"You won't see huge prices but you will continue to see average revenue per user very strong as people take additional services from us," Mr Freudenstein said.
"Over the medium term will there be price increases? Yes. But we're very focused on the fact it is a tough consumer environment out there and we're not going to be ridiculous about what we do with our pricing."
Under Mr Freudenstein's emerging two-pronged content and technology vision, Foxtel will launch a new app next month called Foxtel Go which will offer subscribers 21 live channels and a library of on-demand content on their iPads free of charge.
This follows the huge success of its London 2012 Olympics app which achieved 160,000 downloads and about two million views for eight live dedicated channels. More channels will be added in February and the app will also migrate to laptops and other devices.
"By February we will have radically expanded the channel line-up. It looks beautiful and works really well."
What do you think the 21 channels will be? Will it include sport and movies?