The internet caught fire this week with rumours that on-demand internet streaming media service, Netflix, was looking to officially embrace Australian customers in the New Year. That sound you hear is thousands of TV remote controls being dropped to the floor in shock. And hope.
So what is it? Available in the US, UK and many European countries, Netflix features a vast library of movies and TV programs, and a host of Netflix Original content — like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards — all available to stream instantly to your home for a monthly fee. Essentially, think of it as an online video store that you don’t have to get out of your PJs to visit.
While not officially available in Australia, you’ve likely heard of this mystical bringer of movies and TV through countless other shows or movies. Walk past any office watercooler and you’ll hear the name ‘Netflix’ whispered in tones usually reserved for Lord Voldemort. Sadly, it’s always been just out of reach in Australia, apart from legally grey methods to ‘acquire’ it.
State of play
At present, we have a limited number of streaming content media services available in Australia. Popular options include Apple TV, Foxtel Go and On Demand, and Quickflix – a service that delivers roughly 1.5 million DVDs to the door per year and offers limited streaming. Each one offers a variety of ways to ingest your content, be it via PC, TV, Xbox, PlayStation, tablet computer or smartphone — anything with a screen, basically.
Technically, it’s possible to subscribe to Netflix via a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service — think of it like a private internet link directly to the US — which allows you to trick Netflix into thinking you’re a US customer and … VOILA! Instant/dubiously acquired TV and movies streamed directly to your PC, TV or tablet. At present, this method resides in the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ basket, but you can bet your eyeballs that Netflix has been keenly monitoring the amount of these pseudo-American customers, sizing up their potential customers.
Until now, Netflix’s potential for doing business in Australia was stymied by two main factors: doubts about our telecommunications infrastructure (basically, their ability to deliver content to us); and whether there would be enough interested customers. Perhaps our status as the number one nation of Game of Thrones downloaders made them sit up and take notice. Or maybe it’s simply a case that the numbers add up now. Whatever the reason, they’re about to change our world. We say, it’s about time.
Should we be excited?
While we may now present a viable business market, many fear we’ll be struck yet again by the most dreaded aspect of technology in our land: Australia Tax. Regardless of how many ‘units’ sold or active service subscribers, many companies view the Australian public as a cash cow, jacking up prices for hardware and software like they’re selling bottles of water on Z Day. Fingers crossed Netflix offer a comparable price to the current US cost of $US7.99 per month.
But there’s one more reason to hold off the welcome trumpets. A potential thorn in the side of Netflix positioning itself for Australian domination is the recently revised NBN policy. Fibre To The Home (FTTH) would allow services like Netflix to supply 4K streaming media — we’re talking extreme HD in all its glory, which you can expect in the near future — at a cost unlikely to haemorrhage your bank account. When that policy was rescinded to Fibre To The Node (FTTN), the NBN’s potential was drastically hamstrung. In a nutshell, living a long distance from the nearest node may make Netflix impractical, or downright impossible.
If you are looking to connect when it finally launches here, we recommend changing your internet plan with your ISP (so it allows for increased downloads) and double-checking that you have the speed to handle HD media streaming. It’s a brave new world, but not being able to actually watch it will leave you feeling like it’s the Dark Ages.
Mark Gambino is an Australian freelance journalist.