Presto’s got the might of the Foxtel empire behind it in its quest to become the choice for Australians streaming TV and Movie content in 2015. However, it has problems — and content isn’t really the most glaring issue.
When Presto first launched last year at $19.99 a month for a movies-only streaming service that was, in effect a very Foxtel-lite style service, it genuinely wasn’t all that much worth getting excited about, except for the fact that it showed that Foxtel isn’t entirely unwilling to mess with its subscription TV formula. The lure of no-contract usage appeared decent, but it’s feasible to get access to a larger Foxtel library via Foxtel Play, albeit for a larger outlay with the same terms.
Towards the end of the year, however, Foxtel made some changes to Presto, slashing the straight movies price to a more wallet-friendly $9.99 per month, as well as adding TV content in the new year as part of a deal with Channel Seven designed (at least in part) to combat the incoming Netflix and Channel Nine/Fairfax’s competing Stan service. Presto TV and Movies is offered at a slight premium to the straight Presto Movies service at $14.99 per month for both services with no specific contract, or $9.99 for TV alone. You’ll still need an ISP connection with a decent data pipe to manage it, although everything Presto offers is in standard definition, which brings filesizes down with it.
It’s all but impossible to compare Presto without looking at the wider Foxtel catalogue, because it’s not only competing with straight Pay TV, but also Foxtel’s own Foxtel Play offering, again at a lower price and with a reduced content set. You can see the wheels turning at Foxtel HQ for this one, because they’re unlikely to cut their own throats profit-wise by making Presto significantly better than Foxtel Play or a “full” Foxtel subscription. At the same time, at least at launch, the TV content on offer isn’t all that extensive.
Take the Comedy genre, for example. Right now, Presto offers episodes of Always Greener, Angry Boys, Californication, Cheers, Doc Martin, Entourage, Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier, Girls, Ja’mie: Private School Girl, Kinne, Nurse Jackie, Rake, Sex and the City, Summer Heights High, The Librarians, Upper Middle Bogan and We Can Be Heroes.
That’s it. It’s not the greatest list, and a large quantity of it has been available in SD over on ABC iView either recently or (at time of writing) right now for free.
Oddly enough, though, content isn’t actually Presto’s major problem.
Why would I spend a paragraph bemoaning the content offering and say something like that?
It’s because streaming content is always a fluid matter. The rights to stream shows comes and goes, even on industry heavyweights such as Netflix, and as such the Presto situation could well change in a month or two. In six months, if Foxtel’s interested in really pushing the service, it could be a great deal better. In any case, because the Presto site is fully searchable without a login, it’s easy enough to peruse their offerings month by month and work out if there’s $14.99 of content worth your time there on an ongoing basis. What I’d choose to watch may be quite different to what you’d choose to watch, and the reality for Australians in 2015 is that no one streaming service is likely to cover all your TV watching desires.
There’s part of my brain that wonders off-hand if that isn’t part of Foxtel’s wider game, because once you combine a Presto, Netflix, Quickflix and Stan subscription, you’re well within the ballpark of the lower-end “full” Foxtel subscription (with Foxtel Play for streaming) pricing anyway. But I digress.
Getting back to Presto’s bigger problem in the streaming space, it’s not to do with content. It’s to do with content control.
Presto is available to stream across Mac, PC, iOS and “Selected” Android platforms, largely within the Samsung ecosystem. That’s a reasonably wide spread, but in similar fashion to Foxtel Play/Go, you’re limited in the number of connected and approved devices that can access Presto. Only four devices in total can be authorised, and only two can be streaming from Presto at any one time. That’s annoying, but again given the corporate parent and its business structure, it’s not entirely surprising. I’ve been testing the desktop web-based streaming, as well as iOS via its client app.
Presto’s presentation is decent, if a little barebones on the TV side. You can get a full alphabetical listing of available TV shows, but can’t sort by year, and the search doesn’t always work properly if you search by actor. As an example, a web search for Jackie Chan finds no results, but there’s a separate “People” tab that lists three films, all of which are available to play.
Where Presto gets downright frustrating — and frustration is never a good thing in a medium such as TV and movies, where most of us just want to relax — is if you try to stream content up to a larger screen than your PC or tablet. Presto’s fully supported for iOS tablets, but Airplay streaming isn’t supported in any way. Again, that’s in line with what Foxtel Play/Go does, but it’s a limiting factor in a market that thrives most when consumers can access content quickly and easily. Equally, though, even if you opt for a 30-pin or Lightning to HDMI converter, where the digital path is one hundred per cent protected from those nasty piratical types, it’s still blocked.
This is just dumb, Presto. Your competitors are all over every device they can lay their hands on, especially the incoming elephant in the room, Netflix. There’s a Netflix client for just about everything, even down to the Wii U. Not supporting AirPlay streaming or cabled streaming is serious head in the sand stuff.
There might appear to be a saving grace in that Presto does support Chromecast streaming from PC or iOS. In full disclaimer mode, Presto sent me a Chromecast to test this functionality out, which I valiantly attempted to do.
The problem is that Chromecast streaming is incredibly unstable. On repeated attempts to stream from either a Macbook Air or an iPad Air to a connected Chromecast on a very solid Wi-Fi connection, the picture and audio dropped out repeatedly, or locked up altogether. Again, this isn’t convenient in any way, and other Chromecast applications on the same device were essentially seamless by comparison. Network streaming is a tricky business, and it won’t always be something within Presto’s control, although Presto’s own Chromecast support forum doesn’t seem to have any more answers that I do about what’s going wrong.
There’s an added sting to using a Chromecast, however. Remember when I mentioned the four allocated devices/two devices at once limit earlier on?
It turns out that Presto counts the Chromecast you’re streaming to from another device as one of your two playback devices, alongside the device that you’re casting from. Which means that if you do ‘cast up to the big screen, that’s both of your allowed streams running at once, even though logically you’re only watching one screen at that point in time.
To rub salt into the wounds, if it crashes — and in my case, that was more a question of “when” — it’ll take both connections with it for a period of up to ten minutes. That’s ten minutes when you were planning to sit back with a film or TV show that you’re totally blocked out of the Presto service wholesale.
Presto can solve its early content issue pretty easily, although clearly given the corporate parent it’s going to be a delicate balancing act agains the price and “value” of a full Foxtel subscription. That just takes some particular decision making on Foxtel’s part. In the meantime, however, Presto seriously needs some bug fixing behind the scenes before it’s genuinely competitive.