Recently, it’s begun to feel like Australia is playing out a real-world performance of Waiting for Godot. The television watchers of Australia are all gathered at a crossroads, debating what to do as we await the coming of some slightly unknown, but assumedly wonderful, being.
Netflix Australia, we are told, is coming.
Like Samuel Beckett’s never-appearing title character, the US internet television provider is the subject of much speculation, up to and including its start date which has not shifted from “some time in March” since the first official announcement of an Australian service in November.
But as the US TV behemoth prepares for its Australian launch, we spoke to two Netflix executives about who Netflix is targeting Down Under, what we will be watching and why broadcast TV is actually to blame for piracy.
Todd Yellin, Netflix Vice President of Product Innovation, places the blame for internet piracy with the old-school broadcasters.
“The world turned your mother into a pirate,” Mr Yellin tells The New Daily.
“She had no idea she was pirating. It’s a by-product of content being staggered in the way it is delivered around the world. Why should a show produced in Hollywood or the UK be shown in Australia two years later?”
Mr Yellin’s reference to a parental audience isn’t accidental. Netflix has identified exactly who is in its sights and is confident it can win viewers back from piracy with a legal product.
“We don’t aim the product at the early adopters,” says Mr Yellin. “It’s for the late adopter, the technophobe, the person who jumps on the counter and says ‘technology eugh!’”
If it all sounds like a plot for world domination, it is.
Australia is an important destination for the company and Netflix’s Vice President of Content Acquisition, Sean Carey, notes that “we’ve got some Australian content at launch and more over time”, but it is not pretending to deliver an Australian product.
But Australia is only the next milestone on the road: “We have more countries to go than behind us; our intent is to be more or less global in two years,” Mr Carey says.
In the ring
Netflix is not worried in the slightest that it has been beaten to the market by the likes of Quickflix, Presto and Stan.
“It’s easier to copy,” notes Mr Yellin, happily acknowledging that some reviews of Stan in particular have suggested it has a better User Interface than Netflix.
“You’re not going to get it perfectly. It’s going to be that guy in New York City or Times Square saying ‘you want to buy this Armani, Gucci, Rolex?’ – and we know about the authenticity there.”
Mr Yellin is confident that the market will work out their competitors. Stan’s interface may feel similar to that of Netflix, he agrees, “but you can’t get underneath the hood”.
Still, he is happy for the competition – if they have a good product.
“We look at our direct competition, we’re curious what others are doing, but we don’t obsess over it. This is a paradigm shift. There’s room for a number of companies to succeed.”
So what about free to air?
Netflix is also sure that free-to-air television will continue and want it to. It is not here to kill the dinosaurs.
“We really think our service is complementary to the broadcast platform,” Mr Carey says.
“Live sports, news … there are content categories where an on-demand platform just really isn’t a great place to give that kind of content and live broadcast television is. We see ourselves as complementary to that ecosystem.
Netflix instead aims to own drama.
“The biggest challenge is making people understand that internet TV is simple and it’s a better way to watch stories,” says Mr Yellin.
Mr Carey’s solution is to win with quantity as well as quality.
“We’re aiming at a series launch on the service every two weeks. We’ll double our content in the first year that we’re in Australia. We keep a lot in reserve and we’re ready to spend a lot more to keep it rolling after that,” he says.
What will Australia have that other versions of Netflix don’t?
Mr Yellin finds the idea of programming entertainment on the basis of where you live boring.
“Your next door neighbor might despise House of Cards but love Chris Lilley. We personally live 7,000 miles apart from each other but your tastes might be more similar to mine or to someone in London or Sao Paulo. We want programing for people who love romance, or love action, or love nostalgia.
“That’s more important than ‘Australians’ as a class because that’s false. When it comes to movies and TV shows, just like age and gender, that’s a very uninteresting way to segment populations. Its more an interest in what you like to watch.”
Shows and movies confirmed for the Netflix Australia launch:
There was speculation Netflix would not be able to air its own series when it arrived in Australia because of licensing agreement with Foxtel. Netflix has since confirmed that every season of House of Cards will be available on launch. Marco Polo, Bloodline and Marvel’s Daredevil will also be available to stream on demand in the first month of signing up.
Netflix announced an arrangement with ABC that would see shows like Jonah From Tonga and Serangoon Road available from launch. The deal will also allow subscribers to watch shows like RAKE, Redfern Now, Upper Middle Bogan, Time of Our Lives, Janet King, Jack Irish, Crownies, Children will also be catered for with shows such as Round the Twist, Angelina Ballerina, Barney, Bob The Builder, Sesame Street, The Wiggles and Thomas the Tank Engine.
Deals with Roadshow Entertainment and Disney will bring a large variety of blockbuster films to the offer, including: The Matrix Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Ocean’s Trilogy, Happy Feet, The Wedding Crashers and Zoolander, as well as TV series Broadchurch and The Tunnel. The Disney partnership will bring Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Saving Mr. Banks and Muppets Most Wanted.