RIP VodafoneTV: Telco pulls the plug on its popular TV streaming box
It was hands down, the best subscription-free gadget for watching TV. But Vodafone revealed today it will end its VodafoneTV service from 30 September 2022.
A Vodafone spokesperson told Tech Blog that VodafoneTV "didn't reach the customer numbers or scale that we hoped it would, and has been operating at a loss".
The news will come as a shock to those who have recently invested in the small black device that offered an electronic programming guide for free to air channels with the option to sign up to Sky channels as well.
VodafoneTV is rounded out with a decent selection of streaming apps, such as Netflix, Neon and Amazon Prime, as well as Youtube and access to on-demand services from several local providers.
VodafoneTV will be retired by September 30, 2022
Vodafone said that it is providing nine months notice of the closure of VodafoneTV to "help with a smooth transition to another TV viewing platform."
For Sky subscribers that will be fairly straightforward, with Sky due to release its own streaming box early next year, which will host a selection of apps as well. But the real beauty of VodafoneTV was that you could buy it for an affordable $179, and access free to air channels and streaming apps without having to pay any ongoing fee.
It was reliable and easy to use and allowed easy recording and catch-up viewing. For those with an older TV without smart TV functionality of Freeview built-in, it was an easy and cheap way to get an upgraded TV experience. So why is Vodafone ditching a service that won rave reviews?
"We first launched Vodafone TV four years ago, before announcing a new version in August 2019, with the aim to create a powerful entertainment solution combining New Zealanders' favourite apps and content all in one place at an affordable price," a Vodafone spokesperson told me.
"However the content landscape has rapidly changed since then, with major international streaming services such as Netflix growing in terms of dominance in Aotearoa and young New Zealanders leading the march away from traditional media.
"With this changing landscape, our strategy has also needed to change. So we've made this decision to close the VodafoneTV platform and focus on delivering remarkable connectivity and ICT services at this time."
The warning signs were there earlier this year when Vodafone TV boxes became difficult to find in retail outlets. It looked like Vodafone was changing tack, making it exclusive to its own broadband customers.
TV's changing requirements
The flaw in Vodafone's model for VodafoneTV was also what made it so attractive to consumers. It didn't require you to be a Vodafone broadband or Sky subscriber. You could buy it in a store and connect via any broadband operator. But Vodafone wears the ongoing cost of developing the platform and hosting content streaming.
With new apps, such as Disney+, appearing on the market with increasing frequency, developing and supporting the changing TV ecosystem is challenging and expensive. The spokesperson said that Covid-19 has "changed the game in many ways" when it came to TV viewing, but wasn't directly responsible for retiring VodafoneTV.
Vodafone will now work with Sky to move existing customers across to Sky's new box next year ahead of the shutdown.
"The team from Sky will be in touch in February to make sure these customers have everything they need for a seamless transition."
So what are the alternatives for free to air viewers currently on Vodafone TV? Most smart TVs bought in the last few years support the same functionality - with Freeview on Demand giving you access to an electronic programme guide for the free channels, recording functionality and access to on-demand services.
Most of the major streaming apps, including Spart Sport and Sky Sport Now for sports lovers, are supported by TV makers such as Panasonic, Sony, Samsung and LG. An alternative option for those without a smart TV is to use a Google Chromecast device to stream video from your smartphone or computer to your TV screen.
The best alternatives
A number of standalone streaming devices are available from the likes of Roku and Xiaomi priced from $80 - $150. But if you watch a lot of free to air TV, take care to choose one that supports Freeview and has the electronic programming guide.
The best option, in that case, is the SmartVu 4K Ultra HD Android TV dongle, a small device you plug into your TV that streams Freeview and supports most of the major apps. It's my go-to device for TV watching when I'm away from home staying with family.
As Vodafone moves away from TV, the rest of the Vodafone empire is doubling now on streaming TV services, with Germany this year becoming the ninth country where Vodafone TV, a cloud-based streaming platform, is now available.
But Vodafone New Zealand went its own way in 2019, when it was sold to a consortium of investors including Infratil Limited and Brookfield Asset Management Inc. for $3.4 billion. It kept the Vodafone name but is now forging its own product strategy which is built around mobile, broadband, IT services, but alas, no TV.
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