Netflix Australia will not be the Netflix you are looking for

The belief that Netflix coming to Australia will suddenly solve all online copyright infringement is idealistic at best, considering it will likely not have anywhere near as much content available as the US giant already has available.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Netflix's potential landing in Australia is good news, but those expecting that will somehow end online copyright infringement, or be anywhere near as good as the US service will be disappointed.

On Friday, ZDNet broke the news that Village Roadshow was in talks with the US streaming giant for a local launch, which some have said will be sometime in 2015.

Rumours of an Australian launch have floated around for years, however, Village Roadshow is the first to go on the record about discussions with Netflix about a local launch.

At face value, it should be good news for the estimated 20,000 Australians already accessing the United States version of the service using proxy services that make their IP addresses appear in the US, to access the service, but as the negotiations with Village Roadshow highlight, the company will need to sign up brand new content deals in Australia before it can offer anywhere near the amount of content currently available on the US service.

Although ideally a global internet player would be able to sign content deals for every country in the world at once, the legacy of media organisations across the globe mean that access to content is still a tangled web of local content deals and distribution windows across different platforms that can last for many years.

This means that on day one Netflix Australia is likely to look very different to Netflix US.

Customers in different locations where Netflix have launched report varying content available on their local Netflix depending on what deals the company has signed. For example, RuPaul's Drag Race is available on the UK version of Netflix, but not on the US version of Netflix. This is because the rights to the show reside with Logo TV in the US.

Reported delays of any launch into 2015 will likely be as a result of the difficulty in signing deals to get TV shows and films on Netflix in Australia. Stephen Langford, CEO and founder of Australian streaming company Quickflix, told ZDNet that it can take years to develop a content platform for a specific country.

"I think to be a service in this market you need to have secured the content deals," he said. "It's multiple layers. You first have to, as we've invested significantly over the past few years, to have a platform in place.

"We've secured a number of content deals for our subscription streaming service, and built a point of difference to the Netflix services in that we offer subscription streaming, and pay-per-view movies and pay-per-episode TV."

Quickflix, which began its life as an online DVD rental service, has struggled over the past few years as the company invested heavily in developing its new streaming platform without the level of customers required to sustain the business.

The company recently dropped its prices to AU$9.99 per month for the pure streaming service, and has moved to make the service available across Smart TVs, Chromecast, and consoles.

The investment made in the online platform came with a slow addition of new customers to the service, which sits at 118,557 as of the end of March this year.

But having those deals in place already puts Quickflix, as well as its competitors Ezyflix and Presto, ahead of Netflix for any local launch. Although Netflix has the benefit of being a large global presence and a brand everyone recognises, it is essentially starting from scratch in Australia for negotiating content deals, and will be reliant on converting those customers already accessing Netflix via VPN over to a platform that ultimately may have less content on it than its US counterpart.

In fact, those wanting to watch shows produced by Netflix itself, such as House of Cards, or Orange is the New Black may be left in the cold, with reports that Netflix's launch in Europe will be without the shows that have currently been locked up with local cable companies. In Australia, Foxtel has had the rights to previously Netflix-only TV shows.

Langford said he welcomed the arrival of Netflix in Australia, saying that at current prices, there is the ability for multiple online video streaming services to compete.

"The reality is that there is more content that we want to watch than we have hours in a day to consume, or indeed the balance sheet of one player in locking up," he said.

"I can see a world where there are multiple service providers each offering a different content proposition. Our broader view there is that over time we do expect other over-the-top low-price services being available here. That's a good thing for competition, and it is great for consumers."

Some also conflate the unavailability of Netflix in Australia with a reason to download Game of Thrones but what is often missed in this argument is that Netflix doesn't have access to HBO shows in the US, or even the most recent film or TV releases until after the series has aired in the US. This is one point of differentiation Quickflix likes to highlight.

The company offers HBO content and new release films as "pay on demand" on top of the AU$9.95 per month subscription cost. Although HBO's deal with Foxtel locked out season 4 of Game of Thrones from being made available on Quickflix as it aired in the US, Langford said that demand for the latest season had been stronger than the last in just one week since it was made available on Quickflix.

"We're seeing plenty of demand for TV, and we went live with Game of Thrones season 4 last week, and I think in the last week, demand eclipsed in aggregate all the demand we generated for season 3, and that was one a week," he said.

"So this is after it's been on Foxtel and everyone saying it has been BitTorrented and there's no demand left. That's not true."

ZDNet sought comment from Netflix, however no response had been received at the time of writing.

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