Griffiths / How the world changed with a quick ‘flix

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THE bright day has dawned; Netflix has turned on its Australian service.

To give you some idea of what a big deal this is, consider three datum:

  • As of this month, 36 per cent of American households have a Netflix subscription
  • Thousands of Australians have been going to the trouble of piping their internet through trans-Pacific VPNs and then committing fraud to set up and use American Netflix accounts.
  • Australian media companies have been scrambling to set up similar services ahead of their arrival.

John Griffiths.
John Griffiths.
If you’re not familiar with it, Netflix is a system where, for a low monthly fee, you get access to thousands of movies and TV shows over the internet.

I was wavering on launch day but then my ISP sent me an email reminding me they weren’t metering the data used (1 gigabyte an hour for standard definition) and offering me the first month free.

Compared to the nightmare of Foxtel Play (which when I set it up on my xbox had me near tears with three devices running to try and please all its requirements to set up – think a bad flat-pack installation with missing parts), the account setup was utterly painless.

I went home and my Apple TV (a little hockey puck box which puts iTunes content on to my TV) already had installed Netflix of its own accord.

Punch in my email and password and I was away.

Up on the O’Connor slopes the ADSL2+ is on the anaemic side but Netflix has invested in some nifty tech that downsamples the pixels rather than buffering.

Unless your television is enormously vast, you’d rather this picture degradation with smooth play than a constantly stuttering stream.

The next bit was completely unexpected.

Netflix runs on a vast plethora of platforms. But it’s seamless between them.

Start watching the movie on your TV with the booming surround sound. Get a bit weary? Retire to bed with your tablet. Pause the movie to sleep? Watch the rest on your phone on the bus to work in the morning with a pair of headphones. The apps keep track of where you are in the show.

All this for $8.99 a month.

By way of comparison, as a content creator I’ve never been comfortable with torrenting. So I’ve bought shows and movies on iTunes and Google Play.

Buying a season of a show can be around $30 and a movie is $5.99 to rent for 48 hours.

You don’t need to watch much for the flat fee of $8.99 to be worth it.

Sadly, it’s not all roses in the brave new world.

All the rival services (Foxtel alone has two competing offerings; Foxtel Play and Presto) are trying to lock in exclusive contract deals so they can compete on something other than price.

Back in the 1980s I walked into a video store where the VHS tapes were organised in sections according not to genre, but to production house.

Sony here, Universal there, Paramount, on a separate shelf. It was almost impossible to find a film I wanted to see.

It’s much the same with the new streaming services. There are a bunch of production houses that sensibly deal even handedly like BBC World. Netflix has its own shows, and Disney. Stan has a deal with Sony. The Foxtel offerings have a lock on 20th Century Fox. Everyone wanting to be a player is getting into the production business to have a chip to trade.

The 900lb gorilla in the game is “Game of Thrones”, which won’t show on any streaming video on demand service in Australia, possibly because its maker HBO is planning its own SVOD play (however, it will be available on the more expensive Foxtel offering “Foxtel Play”, but only as a streaming channel at set times, I’m planning a weekly “Game of Thrones” party every Monday at 7.30pm).

None of this is ideal to consumers who just want to pay a fair price to watch shows they like when they want to watch them.

But make no mistake, Netflix has already dramatically improved the market in Australia.

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