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Pay to watch free stuff on Xbox 360

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There are many characteristics about Australia that people from other countries don’t get: dangerous animals, a big empty country, political angst over an economy that stubbornly fails to plunge into recession, and so on. But two I’d like to single out here are TV and the Internet.

Unlike much of the world, we remain stubbornly devoted to free-to-air television; and unlike much of the Western world, we’re saddled with download-capped Internet plans.

These two combine to leave me completely under-whelmed at the idea that I will, sometime soon, have the chance to watch TV on an Xbox 360.

And what’s on offer for Australians? The ABC’s iView – certainly the best broadcaster’s over-the-Internet catch-up TV in this country; SBS On Demand; and Crackle, DailyMotion, and YouTube.

Foxtel was already integrated into the Xbox 360, but with a curious restriction in Australia: you can only sign up for Foxtel programs if you live where the Telstra HFC cable passes homes. If you’re not in the Foxtel footprint, the value-add adds nothing.

It all looks a bit of a mish-mash. The one thing you can get is an easy way to stream a limited amount of stuff from the Internet to your TV, without a media centre. Unless you want to stream anything else from your computer to the TV, in which case you'll still need the media centre. Oh, and because of Kinect, you’ll be able to navigate the menus by waving your hands.

In all of that, there will be the question of downloads: customers will still have to worry about whether what they’re doing with the X-Box falls within their free allowance or counts against their download caps, except that they’ll be doing more with it.

And it’s a deal for Xbox 360 subscribers – so I guess that free membership won’t count.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that in announcing the wonderful deal, the various spokesheads that had corporate comms craft comments for attribution in a press release were all keen on telling us that it’s a “new way” for consumers to “interact with” their TV – choosing their stuff by waving their hands instead of having to do all that troublesome stuff with remote controls that so destroys the tranquility of Australia’s increasingly Buddha-like TV viewers.

So let’s run the ruler over this again: by paying a subscription and buying an Xbox 360, I can view stuff on the TV that I can already view, free and for nothing, on the computer I presumably already have, because I’ve got an Internet connection, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to view stuff on Xbox Live. Is that about it?

In return for this, we get to live inside yet-another walled garden, another fragment of the Internet that’s presented as better than the real thing. It must be: it costs more.

And just maybe, Australians can finally be habituated to the idea that they should start paying for TV that used to be free. That has to be a good thing, doesn’t it? ®

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