In one of the worst-kept secrets since Apple’s latest iPhone release, streaming video on demand (SVOD) service Netflix has finally officially announced its launch in Australia and New Zealand in March 2015.
This latest salvo in the streaming media war comes as little surprise, considering Netflix executives have paid a number of visits to Australia for closed-door negotiations with local rights holders to strike deals for TV and movie distribution.
The company has dominated streaming media services in the northern hemisphere since launching in 2007, accumulating more than 53 million subscribers, and has had its eye on Australia for quite some time.
When launched you can expect Netflix to be available on basically any device connected to the internet – home PC or laptop, Smart TV, smartphone, tablet, phablet, PlayStation, Xbox, Wii, even an internet-enabled refrigerator.
Some manufacturers may need to issue firmware updates for equipment to offer Netflix compatibility.
Alongside a huge range of movies and TV from well-known Hollywood studios, the service will also offer its own Netflix Originals TV content, such as House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, BoJack Horseman, Marco Polo and new thriller-drama Bloodline, which stars Australia’s own Ben Mendelsohn alongside Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street).
One aspect of the service which received little airtime in the announcement is the full range of content on offer.
Speculation surrounding Netflix’s mysterious meetings over the past several months indicated the company faced unexpected hurdles when negotiating broadcast rights with media content suppliers.
A cheap and flexible service may appeal to some subscribers, but if the content is not there to sustain long-term patronage, users will turn elsewhere. This has been demonstrated in the global decline of traditional pay-TV subscriptions, known as ‘cable cutting’.
Ultra-high definition a drawcard?
Interestingly the service will offer some new content, like the Kevin Spacey-helmed political-drama House of Cards, in 4K ultra-high definition (UHD) resolution – a common standard for digital cinemas.
This may prove a dangling carrot for subscribers of existing Australian SVOD services, considering many providers offer no more than 1080p HD video. A slightly more expensive service may be worth the jump to 4K, especially on a new 4K UHDTV.
Technical specifications aside, Netflix is more than pleased to have reached completion with the lengthy preparations required to launch in Australia.
“We know we have a lot of fans in Australia and are just as enthused as they are to bring Netflix to them at home and on the go,” says Cliff Edwards, Netflix’s Director of Corporate Communications and Technology.
Growing the fan base
Edwards may or may not be referring to the 200,000-odd Australians who currently subscribe to the presently geo-blocked (inaccessible from an Australian connection) service in the US via a VPN – Virtual Private Network, a ‘backdoor’ connection to a US-based server that disguises the user’s country of origin.
“We’re looking forward to creating an even larger fan base with our great original content and catalog of movies and TV shows from around the world,” says Edwards.
“Come March, we’ll be taking another giant step in building a global internet television service.”
But that global internet television service has some tough competition.
A representative for Australian pay-TV and SVOD service Foxtel believes Netflix is no match for home-grown services, stating that: “Foxtel welcomes competition – we believe in offering consumers choice.
“Foxtel is confident that it has the best possible content, delivered by world leading technology and that it can meet the needs of consumers, whether they want the full Foxtel experience or the simplicity and convenience delivered as SVOD through Presto.”
For others in the Australian SVOD market, it’s business as usual.
“It’s good to see Netflix finally coming through the front door – game on!” says Stephen Langsford, founder and CEO of Australian service Quickflix.
“Streaming media is one of the fastest growing sectors in media and entertainment globally, and Netflix’s entry will assist in further building consumer awareness of the streaming category, which in turn will boost demand for all services, including Quickflix.
“The real pressure is on the traditional media players. Free-to-air broadcasters face the prospect of declining advertising revenues as audiences switch their viewing to on demand options, including streaming.”
The Netflix announcement comes hot on the heels of one free-to-air channel’s preemptive strike, with Channel Nine announcing recently its own SVOD service, Stan – a joint venture with Fairfax Media.
The new service will launch early 2015, giving Stan scant time to collect new subscribers before Netflix rumbles into town. Perhaps it has already become the first casualty of the Australian streaming media war.
Let’s hope Netflix is packing a deadly arsenal of content, lest they suffer the same fate.