Digital Media

​Mini set-top box, 4K and download-to-go: Fetch TV's big plans for 2016

Part set-top box, part free-to-air TV, part streaming device, Fetch TV has long billed itself as an all-in-one option for entertainment lovers. But now, the company is looking further with new products and better features to woo Australians.

Fetch TV

Fetch TV has outlined its ambitious plans for the streaming market in 2016, revealing that it will launch a new mini set-top box to challenge the likes of Apple TV and the Roku-powered Telstra TV. The company has also confirmed that it will introduce support for 4K, multi-channel streaming and 'download to go' content next year, as well as bringing a new streaming app onto its platform.

The announcements come off the back of a big year for Fetch TV, which saw a major spike in subscribers off the back of the launch of Netflix and a AU$100 million investment in its platform. With subscriber numbers expected to pass the 300,000 mark by the end of the year, the company says it has more paying subscribers than Stan, Presto and Quickflix combined and is on track to become the second largest pay TV provider in Australian history.

At its heart, Fetch TV bills itself as Pay TV "light." There's full free-to-air functionality that allows users to pause, rewind and series record live TV, and catch-up TV apps are baked in alongside subscriptions video on demand (SVOD) services such as Netflix. Users can also buy one-off movies and TV shows, or pay an additional fee per month for "premium" pay TV channels such as Disney, Nickelodeon and ESPN.

In this sense, Fetch combines the pay TV elements of Foxtel, the transactional content of Quickflix or Bigpond Movies, the EPG of a Smart TV and the catch-up and SVOD apps of a set-top box (along with hard-drive storage for recording).

According to company CEO Scott Lorson, Fetch TV has a slightly different offering to competitors, matched by a "fairly different view" on how to win customers over. And in 2016, that winning strategy is going to involve a number of big announcements.

"We're going to launch a series of new products in the first half of next year, and we're going to go from being a one-product company to a three-product company," said Lorson at a summit on over-the-top streaming services in Sydney last week.

"We are in a very significant expansion phase at the moment. [That includes] enhanced functionality, more content announcements and...we will be doing far more with catch-up TV on the subscription channels."

One new piece of hardware forming part of this three-product strategy is a new 4K capable set-top box, complete with 4K content, due in the market "early next year."

There's a new SVOD app in the works, though Fetch isn't sharing details of who is coming on board just yet. But regardless of which app they're using, Lorson said Fetch users would notice much faster app launch speeds, thanks to 'app suspend' -- a technology that ensures "Netflix feels like a channel change rather than an app loading." The introduction of "quad recording" in 2016 will also let users record an entire channel stream (such as Gem, Nine and Go) on the one tuner.

As well as better speeds, Fetch is promising better picture quality, thanks to an upgrade to the high efficiency video coding (HEVC) standard, which offers better video quality coupled with better compression, so there's less data to deal with. And if you have Fetch TV at home, you will also be able to download shows to go, for watching on your mobile or tablet.

All of these updates, as well as the new 4K-compatible set-top box, will be joined by one more product in the Fetch stable with the 2016 launch of a mini set-top box. But, in keeping with its free-to-air focus, Fetch plans to one-up rivals Telstra TV and Apple TV by including a TV tuner in its mini.

According to Lorson, tying together traditional terrestrial broadcast TV with over-the-top streaming is a no-brainer, especially considering Australians' viewing habits.

"We believe that the bulk of viewing continues to be free to air," he said. "You have perfectly good terrestrial signal that consumes no bandwidth, generates no cost and gives you the highest possible quality of resolution. Why would you not use that as the vehicle to bring the free-to-air in?"

"Our belief is to ensure you have that terrestrial tuner on everything you do, so you can have a single interface that covers your free-to-air, your subscription, your transactional content, your Netflix and everything."

Taking a subtle swipe at Fetch's competitors, Lorson reiterated the central selling point of Fetch TV as a home for popular new streaming apps, as well as traditional broadcast TV.

"If you don't have free-to-air, it is a longer journey for the customer," he said. "If you're just banking on the SVOD world or just on the PVR or just on subscription content, you're missing the point that people want to do all these things.

"It's about a single interface, a single bill, one service that offers the non-Foxtel 6.5 million homes [across Australia] an opportunity to have a very rich content experience."