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The wonderful yet doomed VodafoneTV box.
The wonderful yet doomed VodafoneTV box.

Pop CultureDecember 15, 2021

A plea to Vodafone’s corporate overlords: please don’t kill your little black box

The wonderful yet doomed VodafoneTV box.
The wonderful yet doomed VodafoneTV box.

VodafoneTV’s days are numbered, the company has announced. Fans of the set-top box believe it deserves a second chance.

When Edwin Monk-Fromont heard the news, he wasn’t happy. A year ago, he shelled out $179.99 for VodafoneTV, a one-stop set-top box that allows users to combine linear TV viewing with many streaming services in one handy package.

Monk-Fromont had read this review on The Spinoff, decided it was for him, so went ahead and bought one. He wasn’t disappointed. “It’s been really useful because we moved into a house with a super old dish. It was hard to get linear TV,” says the Waiheke Island resident.

The interface of the Vodafone TV. Image: supplied

Now, he could catch up on the news and access all of his apps like Netflix, Neon or Amazon Prime Video without switching remotes, and with no subscription fee. He could even connect his Sky TV subscription services to it. “I love it so much,” he says. “It’s pretty useful.”

On Friday, all VodafoneTV customers received an email announcing some bad news: VodafoneTV is dying, and in nine months, it will be dead. “Due to the changing content landscape, VodafoneTV will close on 30 September 2022,” the email read.

Vodafone spokesperson Nicky Preston told The Spinoff that VodafoneTV had been “operating at a loss” and didn’t reach the scale they’d hoped. She blames an evolving streaming era. “The content landscape has rapidly changed, especially with a proliferation of internet-connected devices on which to view content, from Smart TVs to tablets and phones,” she says. “We would rather invest into areas like customer service, network and ICT to provide customers with great connectivity and digital services, instead of continuing to run VodafoneTV as a loss-making service.”

Edwin Monk-Fromont couldn’t believe it. “Gutted is how I felt,” he says. VodafoneTV launched in 2017, and received an upgrade to a faster version in 2019. Everyone who uses it seems to like it. The decision affects about 100,000 users, a significant number. “I was surprised that they were giving up on it so soon,” Monk-Fromont says.

Like other users who spoke to The Spinoff, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do once the service dies. “Our TV doesn’t have any apps on it,” he says. “I don’t have any other options. I think my wife would be genuinely sad to not have it in our household.”

He also said: “I hope you write an article saying what to replace VodafoneTV with I need to know what to use next.”

This box is different. Image: supplied

It’s a great question, one I can’t answer. I, and the rest of my family, are daily VodafoneTV users too. Like Monk-Fromont, I yelled, “No!” across the newsroom when I got the same email. I want to know my replacement options too.

Duncan Greive is another. The Spinoff founder authored a review headlined, “The last box you’ll ever buy for your telly,” and described the service as “a small, portable, easily setup and relatively cheap device which merges multiple subscriptions, logins and gives you access to linear. If that sounds useful to you, it’s well worth the cost of entry.”

To give us all advice, I turned to an expert. Peter Griffin is a technology journalist with decades of experience covering things like this. Yet even he was shocked by the news. “I was very disappointed with the news from Vodafone because it really is a very user-friendly device,” he says. “If it was a clunky service, I’d not be surprised or annoyed, but it actually works really well … For the 100,000 people on VodafoneTV it will be a hassle.”

Luckily, Griffin has some options. He knows what’s out there. One possibility is that if it’s time to upgrade your television, you possibly should. “The nearest equivalent at the moment is a smart TV with Freeview built into it,” he says. You’d just need to make sure a rooftop aerial was connected. “That will offer live Freeview, Freeview On Demand and recording of shows, with the streaming apps provided as well.”

If that’s not financially viable, a SmartVu dongle costing $149.99 could be a good option for some. It lets users stream Freeview channels and use their apps in a similar way to VodafoneTV. One benefit is being able to travel with it. But Griffin warns the package “isn’t as comprehensive as Vodafone TV”.

Also complicating matters is that in the middle of 2022, Sky TV is set to unveil its new set-top box. Those VodafoneTV customers with Sky packages may want to hedge their bets and see if that might be a better replacement for VodafoneTV, Griffin says.

Everyone spoken to for this story is a fan of VodafoneTV. No one wants it to end. Even Preston, VodafoneTV’s communications spokesperson, is a fan. She also confirmed there was no going back on the decision. “Wish it wasn’t true,” she wrote, via email. “But sadly the decision has been made.”

She, Greive, Monk-Fromont and I have got until September to figure out which option might suit our future TV-viewing needs best. Until then, we get to use something that already solves all of our  issues. It’s called VodafoneTV. “It was a great experience while it lasted,” sighs Monk-Fromont. He’s so right.

Users can recycle their old VodafoneTV boxes here.

* An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Sky TV’s new set top box will be released in February. It is due out in the middle of the year.

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