Trumpets blared across Australia as US streaming video on demand (SVOD) giant Netflix finally announced the arrival of Netflix Australia and New Zealand.
Opening shop in March 2015, the streaming media company will offer Australian audiences a vast library of movies and TV, including their growing catalogue of Netflix Original content, like BoJack Horseman and Marco Polo.
Local competing services have welcomed the arrival of Netflix, a service currently unavailable in Australia due to digital rights agreements.
Anyone attempting to use the service from Australia is met with a notice stating it is unavailable from their location and denied access – a practice known as geoblocking. But that hasn’t stopped reportedly hundreds of thousands of Australians signing up to Netflix US using a workaround (see below) as access to great TV.
Move over free-to-air TV
Streaming media, or internet TV, has grown in popularity over the past 10 years, with many services offering a huge range of content, flexible viewing options and attractive pricing.
These factors have been cited as the reason for the continued decline in free-to-air TV advertising and revenue, as viewers opt for a service that suits their changing lifestyle.
Reed Hastings, Founder and CEO of Netflix, used an interesting analogy when discussing the future of free-to-air recently, saying it’s “kind of like the horse, you know, the horse was good until we had the car. The age of broadcast TV will probably last until 2030”.
Similar predictions have seen free-to-air broadcasters moving into internet TV, like the recent announcement of the Channel Nine-Fairfax partnership streaming media service, Stan.
Should you subscribe to Netflix Australia?
While pricing and packages are yet to be announced, the question is now whether it will be worth cancelling your Netflix US account, accessed by a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or opting for a Netflix Australia subscription instead.
A subscription to Netflix US starts at $US8 per month, giving you no-contract access to on-demand TV and movies. Accessing HD content will cost you $US9 per month, while Ultra HD (4K resolution) content is $US12 per month.
This will give you all Netflix Original TV series plus shows like Sherlock, Homeland, Breaking Bad, The Killing and many more, and more movies than you have annual leave days to watch.
But it’s not just Netflix that Australians have been accessing.
An annual membership to Amazon Prime will cost you $US99 – or $US8.25 per month – giving you unlimited movies, TV and music streaming, as well as photo storage and a selection of free Kindle ebooks.
On Amazon Prime you’ll find TV series like Mr Selfridge, Sons of Anarchy, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Orphan Black, alongside Amazon Original series Transparent and Alpha House, plus a huge range of new release and favourite movies.
For Hulu Plus you’re looking at $8 per month, giving you access to a large catalogue of new and old TV and movies, which includes a great range of HD content.
Expect shows like Gotham, Key & Peele, The Flash, The 100 and Louie, partnered with an eclectic collection of movie titles.
You’ll notice Game of Thrones isn’t mentioned here, because show creator HBO only offer the series online via HBO Go, which requires a subscription to HBO via a US cable television company. Hence, the only way to watch new episodes in Australia is via Foxtel or illegal download.
VPN – keys to the kingdom
Although all of these services are geoblocked they are still accessible within Australia via a VPN service.
Is it legal? Until the High Court makes a ruling, yes.
As the Copyright Act, 1968, makes no reference to geoblocking as a ‘Technological Protection Measure’ to protect a rights holder’s content, VPN services do not violate copyright law.
Consumer group CHOICE, which recognises Australians are being gouged by high prices for content, even advocate the use of VPN services as a way for users to enjoy many digital entertainment services at a cheaper price – from streaming media to online gaming, digital music purchases and more.
The cost of a VPN service to access these content providers varies; from free VPN browser plugins, like Hola (available for Chrome and Firefox), to unlimited speed and bandwidth VPNs that also encrypt your data, like Private Internet Access, or the popular Unblockus, at US$7 per month and US$5 respectively.
Watching Netflix on a variety of devices currently costs you a minimum of $US13 per month. Add an Amazon Prime service and that figure rises to $US21.25 per month, or opt instead for Hulu Plus and you’re looking at $US21 per month. But why not spring for all three services, which will cost you less than $US30 per month.
Home ground advantage
For some perspective, a Foxtel subscription starts at a minimum of $25 per month, which does not include premium TV or movie content.
Homegrown SVOD companies like Quickflix and Ezyflix offer a comparable service to their counterparts in the US, with Quickflix offering no-contract subscriptions for $10 per month and Ezyflix catering to the on-demand market, no subscription required.
For Netflix Australia to present itself as an attractive alternative to our native streaming media companies or US services accessed via VPN, it will need to offer not only a comparable depth of content to any other service, but also competitively priced packages.
It’s doubtful Netflix will allow its new Australian and New Zealand arms to be cannibalised by its US division, so safe money is on a rate similar to the cost of a US subscription plus VPN host, or around $15 per month.
Anything more and they will likely be laughed out of town.