Another One Bites The Dust – The End of Presto

Hey Presto! The Australian online streaming service has vanished into thin air as if a magician snapped his (or her) fingers… except sadly, its disappearance is no illusion.

Cherie Wheeler 

Presto has officially bitten the dust and it ain’t coming back from the dead any time soon. For reasons that haven’t been made overly clear, Seven West Media sold its stake in the service in October last year, giving old mate Foxtel full control of the company. And what did Foxtel do next? What Foxtel does best. Like a very hungry caterpillar, Foxtel devoured Presto – wiping its existence clean from the earth at the start of this month. Then, in hopes of turning itself into a beautiful, money-making butterfly, it tried to convince all of Presto’s subscribers to join Foxtel Play instead…

As a former Presto member this makes me mad as hell. And you know what? I’m not going to take it anymore.

Well… OK, that’s a little dramatic, because let’s be honest – there’s very little that I or anyone else can do besides jump up and down and spew a few passionate words on the Internet, but I’ll take what I can get.

The truth is, Presto was far from perfect. The app was buggy and often experienced errors. It was also a little pricey at $15 per month to stream both films and TV shows. On top of that, it lacked original content, with some of its programming being available on other platforms. Considering all of this, it’s really no surprise to learn that Presto held the smallest share of Australia’s online streaming community with 142,000 subscribers (according to figures released by Roy Morgan last year). So what makes me so mad, I hear you ask? Two words: squandered potential.

For starters, it absolutely baffles me that two incredibly powerful conglomerates couldn’t manage to get their shit together to create a user-friendly app. I appreciate that ad-free streaming is a tough business to run, with massive outlay required to gain content and only one source of income in the form of subscription fees, but the fact is, people expect top-notch viewing for minimal spend. If you want to play with the big boys, you’ve got to do what they can do.

At first, Presto had a point of difference in its support of the Australian film and television industry. It sponsored the AACTAs one year. It streamed 2016’s Tropfest finalists. It offered a whole range of Australian content. But now Stan does that too, and not only is Stan cheaper at $10 per month, it also has a much better marketing team and around double the number of subscribers.

But there was a way for Presto to compete in the field of content… only trouble is, it would have involved Foxtel letting go of its insatiable greed. Through providers like HBO and Showtime, Foxtel has access to some of the greatest television shows ever created, but instead of openly sharing its gifts with the world, Foxtel likes to keep its claws tightly hooked into any programming worthy of solid ratings. Yes, Presto did give you access to old favourites like The Sopranos and Sex and the City, which was fantastic, but it could have also given people fresher shows, like… oh, I don’t know… perhaps, Game of Thrones?

Now THAT would’ve shaken things up. THAT could’ve made Presto a market leader. But the sad reality is that Foxtel never would’ve done it. It’s far too busy coddling its Play and Go platforms, and while these are certainly an improvement on its traditional products in terms of pricing and the introduction of no lock-in contracts, neither are any match for the Netflix format.

To my understanding, there’s limitations on how long content is available on Foxtel Play, with episodes often only accessible for a few weeks, and Foxtel Go is really just catch-up TV. Foxtel had the opportunity to fill Presto with outstanding content. It didn’t have to be the latest and greatest stuff still airing on its television network – even Netflix falls a bit behind in providing subscribers with the most recent seasons, plus that would’ve made Foxtel Play redundant. However, it could’ve made every past episode of GoT available (for example), with no restrictions. Instead, it chose to lose $27 million in the process of shutting Presto down… now where’s the logic in that?

While one Australian company goes down the gurgler, another is being resurrected from the ashes. Remember good ol’ Quickflix? Well, US company Karma Media Holdings bought it out in October last year. The new owners seem to understand the nature of the cutthroat environment they live in, and are determined to create a unique product that has the ability to compete, which is all well and good… but this previously Australian/New Zealand company is now under American ownership, and this along with the death of Presto doesn’t sit too well with me. I just only hope that one day we will be more supportive of our own, rather than always looking to everything that comes out of the US and treating it as superior.

Image courtesy of The Sopranos / HBO

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