Like a huge wave rolling in from a bountiful ocean of home entertainment, Netflix has hit Australia in a big way. Glorious as it may be, don’t expect a Grail solution for your entertainment woes.
When it launched on March 24, we marvelled as Netflix opened up a world of premium TV dramas and comedies, blockbuster, cult and documentary cinema, and a healthy dose of family and children’s entertainment. But in some ways, we had drunk the Kool-Aid.
Soon after launch it was discovered that Netflix US subscribers enjoy around six times as much content as Australian subscribers. We’re talking around 1100 titles in Australia versus over 7000 in the US, give or take.
For the roughly 200,000 Australians accessing Netflix US via VPN at the time the service launched in Australia, that’s not a great incentive to disconnect and pay the Aussie way.
Even with original Netflix content – like House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Daredevil, Marco Polo, The Adventures of Puss in Boots … the list goes on – why would you opt for a compromised service? That ‘huge wave’ feels more like a ripple in the water.
When we examine the competition, the situation gets a little more interesting.
At the time of launch, Australia already had three other subscription streaming media services to choose from: Quickflix, Presto and Stan. Many in the industry believed adding a fourth to the ranks was madness, but Netflix were betting on their prestige to sell subscriptions.
Founder and CEO of Australian streaming media service and Netflix’s biggest competitor, Quickflix, Stephen Langsford is upbeat about the arrival of Netflix.
“We always knew we’d be joined by competitors,” said Langsford.
“The prize is more people learning about an alternative to traditional broadcast TV. We’ve now got more shoulders to the wheel to increase awareness.”
Presto and Stan decided this race would be run by throwing megabucks into above the line marketing. Netflix opted for an entirely digital campaign.
Yes, each streaming service has exclusive content to trumpet – Netflix has House of Cards, Stan has Better Call Saul – however, devoting yourself to one particular service may still leave you with an entertainment itch to scratch.
The transactional edge
‘Transactional viewing’ is when a movie or TV series is released first to users who either pay to own content outright or rent for a limited time. It’s only after this exclusive sale and rental period that content becomes available to regular streaming media subscribers.
“There’s definitely a place for first-run content, but sometimes I think too much is made of it,” said Langsford.
“There’s a huge demand for content that may be subject to hold-backs, like Game of Thrones, available through Foxtel for an exclusive period. But there will also be huge demand for it when it becomes available in a transactional form.”
Quickflix offers a way to lessen the blow of exclusive content deals, by letting subscribers buy or rent content before it becomes available in a streaming capacity.
Netflix Original content may be a cost effective alternative to offering transactional viewing, but as Langsford says without it, meeting demand during the exclusive release period is impossible.
Why else would his company have seen a 6 per cent growth in paying subscribers in the last quarter when both Stan and Netflix hit the scene?
Before Netflix Australia’s arrival, The New Daily rated Quickflix, Presto and Stan. Here’s what we found
The technological failure
From a technological point of view, many Australians who threw themselves into Netflix – possibly their first streaming media service – found they weren’t capable of streaming gigabytes of glorious high-definition movies and TV, their internet sputtering and choking on the bandwidth required.
In the first few weeks after Netflix’s launch, many users reported slow internet speeds, particularly during the prime viewing window between 6pm and 11pm.
For Langsford, the ISPs have no one to blame but themselves.
“The new streaming services are exposing ISPs who can’t provide a decent service,” Langsford says.
“I’ve seen the commentary and finger pointing, but I think there’s clearly a need for investment to support what everyone has known has been coming for a long time.”
Netflix previously indicated that internet speed and data caps were a concern when approaching the Australian market, but Langsford disagrees.
“The marketing promotion around metered versus unmetered content is a bit of a red herring,” Langsford says.
“Clearly some providers are providing such large caps that the concern of metering falls away.”
He refers to recent promotions that saw ISPs offer customers unmetered Netflix usage to help overcome data cap restrictions and obviate the need to switch to a higher plan.
However, even Netflix now view these partnerships as a mis-step. The company recently stated in it’s quarterly report to shareholders that aligning with Australian ISPs may have had an exclusionary outcome, and that it will not engage in the practice in the future.
The one-month verdict
There can be no doubt that Netflix has been a great addition to the streaming media landscape in Australia.
But although it’s given many viewers a greater choice of material to consume and greater flexibility of viewing, it’s also proven no Grail solution to a country so long held in the grips of a linear broadcast system and a slowly degrading telecommunications network.
Until the streaming services available iron out better content deals for themselves – basically, spend more money on content – and Australian telcos put more money behind their networks, chances are you’ll continue channel hopping for a few years to come.
The New Daily contacted Netflix for comment.