What is Netflix and is it a big deal?

Last week, our household had the pleasure of experiencing our first door to door salesman – a Foxtel representative.   Aside from asking my room mate if he could speak to her parents (hilarious) we politely declined a subscription.  Interestingly, he was offering a monthly Foxtel subscription (the minimum ‘Entertainment Pack’) at an all time low of $25.00 per month, plus the box-thingy for free.  Upon visiting their website, however, he forgot to mention the initial $150 equipment and installation fees in his initial sales pitch (mind you, we didn’t really give him the chance). Despite the sneaky costs, this is quite an unusually aggressive move by Foxtel, coming down from a previous $49 per month ‘Essentials Pack’ subscription fee.  This is probably because they know the effect that Netflix AU will have on the streaming market when it becomes available on the 24th of March, at $9.99 per month.

Simply stated, Netflix is a streaming service which is going to be painfully affordable, easy to use, no advertisements and with no lock in contract.  It will be available on TV, phone and tablet and internet providers iiNet and Optus have jumped on the bandwagon to provide any Netflix related downloads as quota-free.   This service also comes in at the perfect time, as Australia is ever closer to facing piracy laws and consequences which won’t just be empty warnings from  parents.  From September 1st 2015, internet service providers will be  required by law to send notices if you’re suspected of torrenting copyright material in a three strikes style system.  Additionally, there are plans to block torrenting websites such as ‘The Pirate Bay’.  The decision making process is still under way and it’s unclear what the consequences for repeat offenders will be as many options have been shown to fail.

These new laws have come into play through an attempt to crack down on the estimated 29 percent of Australians who admit to being active individuals who pirate.  The truth is, there’s a vicious cycle in play.  The government’s been forced into a position where it’s doing what has to be done to protect our fantastic Australian film and TV industry.     What’s referred to as ‘piracy cancer’ is the reason we lack a thriving entertainment industry and live off British and American staples.

On the other hand, Australian consumers have faced an entertainment drought which have forced pirating to all time highs.  Game of Thrones Season 4 was pirated mostly by Australians.   Sadly, a CHOICE investigation has found Australians pay more money, have fewer choice and less flexibility in our choices of TV and movies.  Currently our options for streaming (On Demand) services can be viewed here comparing Presto, Stan. and Quickflix with Netflix.  The comparison summarises by recommending Foxtel’s Presto, but a review by Lifehacker criticises it’s overpriced lack of content.  Either way, no one service will be able to provide you with an ultimate library of things you want to watch – each service will have it’s own unique broadcasting deals.

But what about Game of Thrones?

Disappointingly, Game of Thrones has a poorly managed release system not designed to address it’s popularity with affordability and accessibility.  In short, Netflix AU will not have Game of Thrones due to local rights deals.  Last year (and likely this year) to watch Season 5 on time, legally, at 11AM on Monday the 13th of April, the only option is a Foxtel $45 a month TV package (minimum cost $690 + $150 installation). No streaming deals or services currently exist to host Game of Thrones for immediate viewing. Interestingly, many Australians (340,000 people) chose the lesser evil of  illegally purchasing a Netflix US subscription through a virtual private network (VPN) to watch on time.

If you’re content with watching it a little bit later, last year the options include a pay per episode subscription through Quickflix at $2.99 in SD or $3.48 in HD, with season passes at $28.99 (SD) or $33.99 (HD).  Google Play also offered similar pricing ($1 extra for a HD season pass) but also included 25 minutes of exclusive content.

No win-win solution yet

Netflix will bring the necessary competition to the streaming market that Australia has been looking for, and will push it’s rivals to go beyond for their customers.  Game of Thrones will continue to be pirated like there’s no tomorrow.  Even with the addition of Netflix to services, it’s debatable as to whether we will see an improvement to ‘piracy cancer’ and a better solution for both consumers and producers.  In comparison, the arrival of Spotify, an affordable, easy to use alternative to piracy in the music sector, contributes a questionable amount to creators.   Lifehacker wrote a great article explaining how much goes into producing film, pointing out that even if 10% of the Australian population were paying for Netflix (similar to U.S. usage) it’s income would only be able to support one third of entertainment currently consumed by Australians.  It’s also unlikely that Netflix will be motivated to fund any Australian productions in the same way it funds productions on it’s home soil.

TL;DR Paying about $10 a month for streaming is only deferring the industry’s greater problems.  The issue of piracy will soon become the issue of a market monopoly.  But at least less of us will be breaking the law.  Was the industry better off with unpunished downloaders?