Foxtel and BigPond TV channels are now available on the Xbox 360 games console to Telstra broadband customers without counting towards any broadband usage limits. Eligible users in metropolitan Australia can sample the Foxtel on Xbox 360 service free for a month by signing up any time in June 2011. The future for Foxtel is all about IPTV and the relationship with Telstra will be an important part of that as the country prepares for a new National Broadband Network.

The Foxtel on Xbox service was launched towards the end of 2010, with packages starting at under AU$20 a month. Many users found that the service did not count towards their monthly broadband usage plans. Now it is official: all video viewed on the service will be unmetered for Telstra BigPond broadband customers, not counting towards any monthly usage limit. This includes television shows from up to 30 Foxtel channels, including sports coverage on Fox Sports and ESPN, six BigPond TV channels, as well as movies and television shows available on demand.

BigPond TV includes dedicated channels for AFL football and NRL rugby leagues, with games from the current season available as highlights and complete matches available delayed, on demand. Live Australian Football League coverage will come to Foxtel on Xbox from the start of the 2012 season. Foxtel, Austar and Telstra recently announced a five-year rights deal with the AFL, estimated to be worth around AU$700 million.

“This arrangement with Telstra is a big win for Foxtel on Xbox 360 users, allowing unmetered access to thousands of hours of great programming — all without a Foxtel fixed-term contract,” said Patrick Delany, executive director of product and sales at Foxtel. “There are around 1.3 million Xbox consoles in Australia and getting unmetered access to Foxtel on Xbox 360 is now as simple as plugging into BigPond internet to give subscription TV a go.”

The live channels are currently available to Xbox 360 owners with an Xbox Live Gold subscription, and theoretically limited to those living in metropolitan areas of Australia served by Foxtel. As previously reported by informitv, Foxtel has offered AU$2 billion to acquire Austar, which covers regional and rural Australia.

The channels are delivered through a content distribution network on a best efforts basis, as the Telstra network does not currently support multicast distribution. Video is available in three quality settings, the highest of which is around 1.7 megabits per second, or around 800 megabytes per hour.

J B Rousselot, Telstra’s Executive Director of Media, said: “Hundreds of thousands of Australian homes now have access to BigPond TV channels which makes a compelling reason to get online through Telstra. BigPond’s unmetered content is already a hit with T-Box, Samsung and LG customers, and we’re pleased to be bringing unmetering to customers connected to Foxtel on Xbox 360.”

Metering is a peculiar feature of many broadband packages in Australia, by which “excess” usage above a certain limit, which starts at 2 gigabytes a month at the entry level, is throttled to a rate that does not support video. Certain sites, notably those provided by Telstra BigPond, are “unmetered” and usage does not count towards such an “allowance”.

Such policies have hitherto hindered the adoption of online video services in Australia. Telstra has been able to offer unmetered video to customers of its own T-box set-top box and certain smart televisions, and this facility is now being extended to Foxtel, in which it has a 50% shareholding.

The significance for Foxtel is that it gains effective access to additional homes with an Xbox, without the need to install a dedicated set-top box. Customers can sign up to channel packages on a monthly basis without committing to a Foxtel fixed-term contract.

A similar service has been available from Sky to Microsoft Xbox Live subscribers in the United Kingdom since October 2009. The Foxtel offering was enabled by the same company that developed the Sky Player online video platform, ioko, which is now part of Kit Digital. The number of subscribers to the Sky service on Xbox has yet to be announced.

Kim Williams, the chief executive of Foxtel, said at a pay-television conference earlier this year that the company is planning to launch a new set-top box that will combine the benefits of both broadcast and broadband. While current boxes are broadcast centric with some internet functionality, this will reverse in the future.

He said the next-generation box “will offer web-based interfaces, fully integrated contemporary search and recommendation functions, better storage capacity and content management. It will be hotwired to the internet, provisioning access to a magnificent cloud of tools and content goodies.”