Australia Just Wants to Stream!

At some point in our lives we are all dealt the timeless proverb, ‘Good things come to those who wait.’ When it comes to quality pay-to-view streaming services, Australia is waiting, but not receiving. In the United States companies such as Hulu and Netflix offer their customers cheap and legal access to more content than one person could ever dream of watching. In Australia, there are some options for legally streaming content, such as Quickflix, FetchTV and of course the individual TV networks online ‘catch-up’ services. However these offer consumers vastly limited content in comparison to their US counterparts, or in the case of the ‘catch-up’ services, only offer content once it has been screened on free-to-air television.

So what’s wrong with the Australian equivalents? They actually manage to fall down in a number ways. Straight of the bat there are massive issue concerning quantity and quality; Australian services are miles behind what is offered in other countries. For example, the Quickflix ‘Watch Now’ TV and Movie service (which will set you back $15 per month) offers unlimited viewing of about 400 films and just 18 TV shows, none of which could be considered remotely close to new release. Some of the most recently added titles to this service include Stuart Little, American Pie (yes, the first one) and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Honestly if we were looking for a trip down memory lane we could just dust off our VHS collections. Any new release films on Quickflix come with a $6 price tag – a less than enticing price considering we know Netflix customers pay around $10 ($US) per month for far more content.

Another Australian based option, the FetchTV streaming service (which is locked to just a handful of internet service providers) offers an even more depressing collection of content. They have just 30 stream-on-demand films at any one time; once again any new release films will set you back $6 a pop. Admittedly FetchTV does also offer their customers a new way to access pay-TV channels, but in terms of their stream-on-demand service, they simply offer another example of why Australia’s most popular on-demand TV and movie service continues to be BitTorrents.

The big question is, why is Australia being left behind? Unfortunately there are a bunch of reasons why we won’t see Netflix hit our shores any time soon. After recent expansions into the UK, Ireland, Canada and South America, Netflix have stated, “we will pause on opening new international markets until we return to global profitability.” Who knows how long this may take. If Netflix fails to find success through its current international ventures, we can all but forget about them entering the Australian market any time soon.

But that’s not all. Other difficulties with rolling out Netflix-style services in Australia come from our lack of market and the current room for failure within that market. The unfortunate reality is that we are a country of just 22-million people with relatively crap broadband. Currently Australian internet lags literally a decade behind countries such as Japan and Korea (the majority of Australia won’t reach their current speeds until the National Broadband Network is completed in 2020) and our average speed now is less than half the average speed in the United States. Streaming services require fast and reliable internet for the product to be delivered and until the NBN is completed many Australians slow internet could deter them from paying for access to stream-on-demand content. For a business such as Netflix, Australia currently doesn’t offer a lucrative enough market.

However, there is a sneaky solution available for Australians who are desperate to access the content of Hulu and Netflix. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) provide a way of tricking these companies into thinking that you and your computer are located within the United States. Voila! The content is available. Now you might be wondering, ‘is this legal?’ Well, it just so happens to be far more legal than Australia’s currently preferred option of BitTorrents. In an interview with The Australian last year, former Attorney-General Robert McClelland stated, “In relation to the use of VPNs by Australians to access services such as Hulu and Netflix, on the limited information provided there does not appear to be an infringement of copyright law in Australia.” So if you can be bothered, go for it. A guide to using VPNs to access such content was recently published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

For the majority of Australians, it is becoming increasingly hard to maintain our patience when waiting to view our favourite TV shows or new release films. Breaching copyright laws is obviously not the preferred option, but a lack of legal means to access the same amount of content offered through BitTorrent websites will continue to entice internet users down the legally shady path. I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that I would be more than happy to pay for the incredible convenience and range of content offered to by Netflix and Hulu – if it was made available in Australia. For now though, it looks as if we are going to have to wait.