Not so Flash?

Foxtel's new news aggregation service Flash could prove to be a product in search of a market - but it's an affordable risk

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Flash: A solution in search of a problem?

Yesterday, Foxtel’s streaming arm Streamotion ran an event to launch its third streaming product, Flash, which goes live today.

Flash is a news aggregation service, offering a mixture of live news channels and on-demand clips. The international line up is pretty comprehensive, including Al Jazeera, BBC World News, Bloomberg TV, CNN International, FOX News Channel, France24, Sky News UK and - of course - Sky News Australia.

It’s the sort of niche streaming product that could only come from a company that has news in its DNA like News Corp, two-thirds owner of Foxtel.

It’s the first time an aggregated news product like this has been tried around the world. But it’s not the first time that News Corp has made a big bet on emerging technology around news. A decade ago, the company went larger than any other organisation on tablet publishing. It committed something like $30m to its global tablet newspaper The Daily, which tried to combine the curated experience of newspapers with the interactivity of the web. But getting the public to go to the trouble of downloading an app, then paying for it, proved impossible. The company pulled the plug after only amassing 100,000 subscribers around the world, perhaps a tenth of what it needed to be profitable.

Flash does not represent that level of risk. It has a small team, led by executive director Kate de Brito, the former editor-in-chief of news.com.au and Mamamia.

And, as Streamotion’s team emphasised during the Foxtel Group investors day a fortnight ago, there’s a common tech stack for all its new streaming services. With Flash sitting on the same reliable technology as Binge and Kayo, there’s no expensive rebuild, mainly design work.

Ironically, they didn’t use their own technology for yesterday’s launch, but used an event industry streaming platform that repeatedly froze.

What cost there is for Foxtel may come from the deals with the individual news channels. Again, I suspect that’s a small incremental cost, as most of the channels are already carried on the Foxtel box.

But who would subscribe?

I think of myself as a news junkie. The first think I do when I wake up is check the news sites on my mobile. In the kitchen, ABC News Radio repeats itself for hours. I regularly use the news channels on my TV as moving wallpaper.

Yet I’d struggle to see myself being motivated enough to pay $8 per month for Flash. It’s not that I’d reach a consciuous decision not to subscribe, more that it’s hard to see the marketing moment of truth, as Procter & Gamble puts it, when I’d choose to download and pay for it.

My instinct when I want to watch or hear live coverage of breaking news is to go the route of least friction, which means turning on the TV, radio, or going online.

I’m currently using my Foxtel Go app to re-binge the first two series of Succession ahead of series three launching on Monday.

Live news channels available to me on that Foxtel Go app include Sky News Australia, Sky News UK, BBC World News, Fox News CNN, CNBC and Bloomberg.

And yet, I’ve never - not once - watched them that way. I didn’t decide not to, I just forgot they were there, and didn’t want them badly enough to think about how to find them beyond my TV. In writing this piece I actually had to open up the app to check whether they were there.

There’s a danger in extrapolating too much from an individual like me, of course. Middle aged marketing journos are not representative of the Australian population as a whole.

A question I’m sure the team at Flash have asked themselves is whether the news junkies they are targeting genuinely want a smorgasbord of channels. I suspect most news consumers are pretty habitual.

The only time I can recall myself seriously spending time with different news channels was during the 2020 US election and the 2021 Capital insurrection. And even then, it was really only to add Fox News and CNN to my repertoire as they were closer to the story.

Perhaps that’s what it will take to drive some subscribers. Optus Sport gets a surge when the EPL season kicks off. Perhaps Flash will benefit from a surge the next time there’s a global crisis that’s not being well covered by the local channels.

Mainly it’s a consolidation play, by the way, although when I asked about original content, Streamotion did tell me: “We will be producing news briefs capturing the day’s headlines. This may grow as we see new opportunities.”

Speaking of consolidation, the absence of ABC News 24 seems a glaring one. For Australian news viewers, that’s a huge gap.

It would be interesting to know the reason. The ABC app is one of the few external apps currently available on the Foxtel IQ box. If I’m running slightly late for breakfast with the TV on, I’ll use it to watch the Adelaide feed of News Breakfast. Or the Brisbane feed if I’m well behind. And the Perth feed if I completely overslept.

But given that the two organisations have already managed to do a deal in a subscription environment (despite their traditional, mutual antipathy), the ABC’s absence from Flash is a puzzle.

Another subscriber niche which I can think of, would be lapsed Foxtel subscribers who love the politics of Sky News Australia. Given Foxtel’s high churn rate, there may be a few of them.

I wonder too whether those who justify the app as media monitoring are a potential market. I’m sure it’s hard to justify to the tax office writing off Kayo or Binge as an expense, but Flash might be allowable for those in corporate comms or politics. That requires a different marketing strategy to a consumer one of course.

Streamotion insists that it will find an audience for Flash. I asked about its potential versus Kayo and Binge, and they said in a statement: “Kayo and Bings has shown that there is a large audience for these dedicated streaming services. While the audience for Flash might not be as big as Kayo and Binge, we believe it is substantial and material.”

“Material” is an interesting choice of word. That suggests this is seen as more than a low risk experiment. And against a backdrop of Foxtel Group being keen to demonstrate streaming growth ahead of a potential ASX float, any subscriber numbers that Flash contributes may be more important than revenue.

An additional challenge now will be for the marketing team, in what is becoming an increasingly crowded family of services without a common brand.

On the one hand, the individual marketing of Kayo and Binge has been a success story after the marketing failures of the various Foxtel apps and the joint venture with Seven West Media, Presto. Moving away from the parent brand has worked.

But on the other, as consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier often says, the best number of brands is one.

Speaking of brands, it will be interesting to see how Streamotion goes with its trademark application for the Flash brand. I see that in category 9, which is one of the categories in which the company is applying for trademark protection, Adobe beat them to it, with a registration for its now defunct software player Flash. I wonder whether Adobe will attempt to protect its IP nonetheless.

And bear in mind, Flash doesn’t launch for another 50 minutes from now, so this isn’t a product review. Maybe once I try it - if I get round to it - I’ll love it.

News experiments often fail. I’ve experienced that a few times myself. But they also sometimes succeed. I doubt that Flash will find an audience, but maybe they will. Either way, I’m glad they’e giving it a try.


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Time for me to grab some belated breakfast. The Perth stream of ABC News Breakfast is calling. Have a great day.

Toodlepip…

Tim Burrowes

Proprietor - Unmade