Netflix is slated for a March launch Down Under. Source: News Corp
As Foxtel launches its spirited broadband-entertainment package assault, now’s the perfect time to recap what it’s up against and what services are on offer in Australia, Netflix included.
Technology is filled with zeitgeist moments - a period of time where key players coalesce around a particular phenomenon, all vying for consumer dollars. For TV and movie streaming in Australia, that time is now.
It’s increasingly likely that 2015 is the year that Australia's nascent streaming entertainment scene comes of age, with established players Quickflix and Foxtel now fighting not only against traditional TV and theatres but new agile competitiors Netflix, Stan and illegal services like Popcorn Time.
Foxtel, long considered to be at the forefront of entertainment innovation thanks to products like its iQ set top boxes and popular mobile apps, has upped the ante announcing a plan to bundle ADSL2 broadband plans with its traditional TV channels.
And that’s just the start, with Presto Entertainment – a joint venture between Foxtel and Seven West Media– rumoured to be close to signing an agreement with Telstra to bundle the SVOD service with Telstra broadband. Meanwhile Presto multi-million dollar rival, Stan, a joint venture between Nine Entertainment and Fairfax, is looking to sign a similar deal.
For its part Netflix - set to launch here in March - has reportedly also been weighing up a partnership with Optus in Australia.
HBO is also expected to release its own standalone streaming service globally sometime early 2015.
It's likely they won't all last. The gamut of music streaming services from only a couple of years ago has been whittled down to just a few main offerings, and we can expect a similar reality in the TV and film streaming space. So what are the standalone options on the table right now, and how do they compare?
Launch date March 31 (rumoured)
Price $9.99 (rumoured)- No lock in contract - At least a 14 day free trial
Key films and shows: Disney films, Netflix original content like BoJack Horseman and Orange is the New Black
Netflix has been taking the world by storm over the last couple of years, which is somewhat ironic given its limited availability in countries like Australia, but a huge selection combined with a strong priority of acquiring streaming rights has seen Netflix lead the way.
As news.com.au reported in the USA where Netflix launched years ago, the service is so popular that 30 per cent of the country’s internet traffic in peak times is just from Netflix.
It’s not going to be an easy ride Down Under, though. For at least the next 12 months, the market will be fragmented due to exclusive contracts signed some time ago for big shows, with most of these owned by Foxtel.
Batman spin-off Gotham for example will stream on Channel Nine in Australia, but then appear on Netflix directly afterwards.
However, ZDnet has confirmed that a global rights deals is on the agenda for Netflix, meaning anything the company is missing for its Australia launch will possibly make its way over in the near future, hopefully ending awkward fragmentation.
Perhaps Netflix's biggest advantage is its name recognition. It's becoming synonymous with film and TV streaming in the same way Google has with web search. It also had a leg up on the competition in its global expansion efforts, and might end up dominating key markets across a number of regions as Uber has for example. Other services like Stan and Presto will likely be specifically Australian.
Its greatest competition worldwide might not be other streaming services, but piracy.
“Piracy continues to be one of our biggest competitors. [A] graph of Popcorn Time’s sharp rise relative to Netflix and HBO in the Netherlands, for example, is sobering,” company chief executive Reed Hastings said recently.
Netflix may have one of the most compelling streaming offerings but it’s always going to struggle against (illegal) free offerings, especially if they’re as well-packaged as Popcorn Time.
Launch date - Australia Day 2015
$10 per month - No lock in contract - 30 day free trial
Key films and shows -
Better Call Saul, Mozart in the Jungle, Transparent, Lord of the Rings, James Bond films
New local entrant Stan, a joint effort between Fairfax and Nine Network’s Streamco, has launched in Australia just last month, and is a strong option for those with a hankering for Aussie content. That’s something unlikely to be rivalled by more global propositions like Netflix, with iconic tiltles like Kenny, Summer Heights High and Rake all available.
The 30 day free trial is also generous, and it works well across all platforms including Apple TV, Google Chromecast and the usual iOS and Android phones and tablets.
While Netflix is a rapidly burgeoning global brand Stan's relative anonymity might be a problem for Fairfax and Nine.
The name 'Stan' doesn't necessarily incite feelings of entertainment, excitement or fun. It's a typical Aussie bloke name, and might be associated with a pedestrian experience if it can't do more to differentiate itself from the competition.
Having taken the free-trial, the Stan experience isn't entirely awry but it lacks the bells and whistles that it's competition brings to the market. The content library is adequate and the reported push to commission Australian-focused content might do Stan some favours.
Stan is a solid offering but will have to work hard to steal customers away from the glitz and buzz of Netflix.
$9.99 per month (was $20) - No lock in contract - No free trial
Devices - PC, Mac, Chromecast, iOS, Android
Key films/TV shows - High end TV shows including HBO - Girls, Newsroom Dexter, Boardwalk empire.
Presto, from industry heavyweight Foxtel, has been live since February 2014 and benefits from Foxtel's hefty (and often controversial) weight in the Australian market. Its HBO shows really are first-rate, though disappointingly True Detective is nowhere to be seen. Foxtel chief executive Richard Freudenstein said in November that Presto would not stream first run HBO shows.
Pricing is slightly complicated, with the service broken up into separate TV and film offerings. The television component – which will tap into Seven's local drama catalogue and Foxtel's HBO library – will cost $9.99 a month. People wanting to watch Presto Movies can bundle both services for $14.99 a month.
Presto director Shaun James said he did not expect the streaming service will cannibalise Foxtel's main subscription service, saying he expected to be an "add-on" for many customers. The service only last week also added Channel Seven content - a big equaliser when compared to Stan's Channel Nine offerings.
One big negative for Presto is that unlike some streaming platforms (including Foxtel’s own Play service) Presto can only be accessed through a PC, Mac or compatible iPad. This means TV users are out of luck - likely a move designed to ease people onto Foxtel proper. Android users are also left out in the cold for now.
Presto’s library is highly competitive however (especially thanks to its HBO content) and it remains an attractive proposition - with the right device.
$9.99 month (streaming) - No free trial
Launch date - 2011
Key films and shows - The Sopranos, The Wire, Sex and the City, True Blood, Space Jam
Quickflix may be the oldest of the lot but it’s struggling to hold on in the face of stiff competition from bigger and better offerings.
Late last year the company's effort to raise almost $6 million fell dramatically short of target. In fact, it raised just over $650,000, or just 11 per cent of the hoped-for $5.7 million.
One plus for users is that Quickflix subscribers can borrow Blu-rays and DVDs for a few extra dollars, a handy option given that many of the service’s shows and movies are disc-only and not available to stream.
In its favour Quickflix does indeed offer streaming across a strong array of platforms; it is compatible with Windows and Mac computers but also Android and iOS devices as well as a host of smart TVs, personal video recorders, game consoles and Blu-ray players.
Disappointingly though, the service has premium movies and TV that are not included in the monthly streaming price, for example newer HBO shows like The Newsroom cost extra. Quickflix just doesn’t have a big enough library to justify the ten bucks a month over a competitor.