Village Roadshow confirms Netflix is coming to Australia

As the company takes up the fight to deter online copyright infringement, Village Roadshow co-CEO Graham Burke has confirmed that Netflix is in negotiations to come to Australia in the near future.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Film production and distribution company Village Roadshow has confirmed that US video-on-demand giant Netflix is in negotiations to access to its content for a local Australian launch.

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Rumours of a local launch of the streaming company are rife, with speculation about a pending Netflix launch rising every few months only to be told by the company that it has no plans for the Australian market at this stage. The most recent rumour pegged an official launch in Australia for next year.

Netflix has remained relatively quiet on plans for a local launch, and the biggest hurdle the company will need to overcome before arriving in the country is signing local content deals to be able to offer a range of TV shows and films in that country. Each region Netflix operates in tends to have differing content available depending on local content deals.

Speaking to ZDNet, Graham Burke, the co-CEO of Village Roadshow, which produces and distributes films in Australia, said Netflix was on its way.

"[On] Netflix, they're talking to our people about supply of products, so they are opening and coming to Australia," he said.

Burke did not put a timeline on its arrival, and although rival services such as Quickflix, Presto, and Ezyflix have moved in to fill the gap in the market by Netflix's absence, the move into Australia would likely bring an end to one line of argument used by people for online copyright infringement about the lack of the availability of a service like Netflix in Australia.

It comes as the Australian government is considering different proposals to crack down on users sharing copyright-infringing TV shows, films, and music online in Australia, with the Attorney-General's Department and the Communications Department developing a number of policy alternatives including the controversial "graduated response" method for deterring online copyright infringement.

Although Burke couldn't put a figure on how much it was costing his company, he said that copyright infringement was "becoming like a bushfire" in Australia.

"Our numbers are soft, but also just the sheer number of anecdotal reports. It's just massive," he said.

"We make AU$2.6 billion-worth of films in Australia. If the piracy thing is not nailed, it's over mate. O-V-E-R."

One of the most common arguments made for why Australians turn to piracy is the delayed release of TV shows and films. In Australia, internet service provider iiNet pointed out that The Lego Movie, distributed by Village Roadshow, was not released until two months after the US release. Burke said this was a one-off, and attacked iiNet's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby for making the claim.

"The reason Lego was delayed because it was an Australian film."

"The Lego Movie, with iiNet along with all the lies they tell, and they know they're telling lies, a lot of good decent people out there have a bunch of assumptions they believe to be correct [because of iiNet]. They know that Lego was a rare exception. The reason Lego was delayed because it was an Australian film," he said.

"We made the decision to hold it off a couple of months until the school holiday break so kids could see it in the holidays which is when they want to see it. That was a one off. It's not an example of how films are delayed in Australia."

Burke advocates a policy to be implemented by the government that would see users sent "education" notices that advise them to cease infringing.

"They'd start with a notice to people saying 'are you aware that this is not a victimless crime? Other people will lose their jobs'," he said.

Burke suggested that users' internet download speeds should be slowed down if they're caught infringing multiple times.

"We believe it should lead to slowing down of the speed. That's what ISPs and iiNet, who are the principal screamers, that's what they do on a regular basis," he said.

"They sell you a plan, and if you're exceeding that plan, they slow you down until you pay more money."

"If the piracy thing is not nailed, it's over mate. O-V-E-R."

He said ISPs had an obligation to help deter copyright infringement, and compared it to airports having security to ensure airlines were safe.

"The airport has some responsibility to ensure people are safe, and there's scrutiny of bags to ensure people don't have guns and bombs," he said.

Following the 2012 High Court ruling against Village Roadshow and others that iiNet did not authorise its users' copyright infringement by refusing to pass on notices to its customers, the copyright holders and ISPs ceased roundtable discussions over a voluntary scheme to deter infringers. One of the sticking points, the ISPs said at the time, was the unwillingness for copyright holders to pay the costs for implementing the notice system.

Burke said that the ISPs were just as reluctant to work with the rights holders.

"We went there naive, innocent, and fresh, trying to work out a co-operative thing," he said.

"They were just recalcitrant ... so we just spent two years getting nowhere."

He said copyright owners "will contribute to the cost" of the infringement system, but said done right "the costs are minimal".

Dalby has previously rejected the argument that iiNet profits from customers who infringe on copyright, insisting that the more a customer uses their monthly quota, the more it costs iiNet overall. Burke rejected the claim.

"That's what they say, but have a look at their business model," he said.

"They have large plans because people are paying them what they pay them because they have a smorgasbord of stolen goods they can access. People have taken that plan because they're figuring out how much pirating they're going to do.

"It's a bit like saying why arrest drunks on the road that are killing people because more will come that are drunk"

"iiNet produce nothing in Australia. All they are is an ISP that rents space. That's all. They clip the ticket."

He said the system wouldn't assess the content of what people are downloading, and the proposed website block for sites like The Pirate Bay would only come after copyright owners go to court and get an injunction. He said the argument that such systems haven't worked in other jurisdictions was not a reason to not try it in Australia.

"iiNet say that 'Legislation has not been successful in other jurisdictions so why bother?' It's a bit like saying why arrest drunks on the road that are killing people because more will come that are drunk," he said.

Although the issue of copyright infringement in Australia has been major news since the commencement of the iiNet trial six years ago, Village Roadshow has kept its name out of the headlines, despite being the named party in the iiNet court case. The company has typically been represented by Australian Screen Association, formerly known as the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft.

Burke said he was speaking out now because he wants to encourage the film industry to thrive in Australia.

"I'm doing this because it will affect the profit of my company [but] that's not my primary motivator. I feel I'm representing all those people who don't and can't speak for themselves," he said.

"The iiNet High Court case cost us millions. We lost it on the basis that the judges actually agreed with us. They said 'we interpret the law, and the law as it stands needs to be re-written'."

ZDNet revealed earlier this year that Village Roadshow had donated close to AU$4 million to both the Labor and Liberal parties since 1998. Burke declined to comment on these donations.

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