CHOICE Doesn't Get The Difference Between Renting And Owning Media

Consumer advocate CHOICE has consistently argued that Australians get a raw deal when it comes to digital media. Unfortunately, the crux of its argument often consists of comparing entirely different products, which diminishes intelligent discussion on an important issue.

Picture: Getty Images

In a press release issued this morning, CHOICE proclaims that Australians are forced to pay "376% more for the same digital content". Its basis for this statement is the following table, comparing how much Series 2 of Orange Is The New Black and Series 5 of The Walking Dead would cost via Netflix in the US, NowTV in the UK and various Australian online providers. (Because the US and UK prices don't include GST, CHOICE has also stripped 10% from the prices for iTunes and Google Play.)

Title Cheapest Netflix (AUD) Foxtel Home Foxtel Play Quickflix iTunes (AU) Google Play NowTV (UK)
Orange is the New Black (S2) $8.56 $8.56 $45.45 $45.00 $39.98 $30.90 $27.26 N/A
Difference N/A 0% 431% 426% 367% 261% 219% N/A
Walking Dead (S5) $8.41 N/A $33.64 $22.73 N/A $39.99 N/A $8.41
Difference N/A N/A 300% 170% N/A 376% N/A 0%

Let's be clear: despite the GST adjustment, the percentage comparisons are largely nonsensical. The prices charged by Google Play and iTunes are for a permanent downloaded copy of the show. The price from Netflix or Foxtel Play is for the ability to stream a copy. One is a purchase, the other is a rental. By CHOICE's logic, we could declare that home owners are being ripped off because the cost of buying a house is so much higher than merely renting one. The 376% figure comes from just that kind of comparison for The Walking Dead.

With that said, the price quoted for Netflix or Foxtel or Foxtel Play isn't solely for the show in question either: it's for access to a much broader group of shows. So you're not comparing apples with oranges, at all. (And that's without considering that right now you'll also potentially be paying for a VPN to get around Netflix's geoblocking.)

One salient point the chart does highlight is that even if you have an all-you-can-eat service which is cheaper than permanent copies, you won't get access to everything. The Walking Dead is not available on Netflix even in the US. No single source is ever going to offer everything.

This isn't the first time CHOICE has been guilty of this kind of apples-versus-oranges non-logic. Last year it complained that the locally available Quickflix service was more expensive than Netflix in the US, but quoted a price for Quickflix that included both streaming and DVD delivery. Again, comparisons aren't meaningful when you're being sold demonstrably different products.

We totally agree with the main point CHOICE wants to make: that while availability is this varied for Australians, arguments by the entertainment industry that forcing telcos to police piracy is essential seem a bit hollow, to put it kindly. Other steps could be taken to make entertainment access more equitable. But this kind of non-analysis does not help the cause.


Comments

    Good write up Angus. Even though choice is a great organisation, we need to keep an eye on facts - we already have issues with reliability of mainstream media and government.

    So your argument is that CHOICE should only have compared the Netflix price (plus Geounblocker) with the Quickflix or Foxtel prices (I'm assuming they're the streaming only prices)? Both of which are substantially higher than the iTunes/Play price.
    If so, the logical conclusion of this article is that they've "cherry picked" data that reduces the impact of their argument.
    Not something that you can complain about in my books!

    I also question the "metaphor" of iTunes purchase being even vaguely comparable to a house purchase... Toilet Paper is a more apt metaphor for my (and most others) visual entertainment purchasing habits...
    Use once and then throw away.
    Using that metaphor, the difference between owning and renting becomes far more hazy.
    (PS if you know of any toilet paper rental firms, I'd be interested to look at their subscription pricing!)

      But you can always sell a dvd. That is the problem with itunes, steam, google play. You are effectively you are effectively renting forever (well as long as the company lasts). You haven't really purchased anything.

        ^ Correct. And even if you buy a DVD you never actually own the content.... just the physical media that it is recorded on.

    Yeah, NewsRadio did a particularly clueless interview with the CEO of Choice this morning. Stories like this are so stupid that it's hard to believe that they're not just outright lying in order to get coverage. NewsRadio - with it's completely unquestioning dogfooding IV - was appalling.

    The comparison is "How much would it cost you to watch that show legally?". It's irrelevant if you own it or not after the transaction. If you wanted to watch Orange is the New Black, right now, how much money would you need to spend to do so?

    1. The simple fact is, media content choices in Australia are abysmal. Not only are we delayed in receiving content, but we are charged more for it.
    2. In comparison to Netflix, Foxtel is a crude and expensive alternative. You require new hardware, new cables to be installed, a 12 month contract, minimum channels, poor package choices, upgrades to HD, etc and you don't even own the content to re watch when you desire. I am aware there are no contract packages available with Foxtel Go, however the fact I know more about Netflix speaks of the Foxtel GO advertising and awareness in this Country. Obviously, they would rather promot their more expensive and longer contractual, Foxtel.
    3. ITunes is available, however it is more expensive than American iTunes for Australians.
    4. As a foxtel customer, I am expected to 'Like' their content on Facebook, follow there promoted celebrities on twitter and as a result witness American content before I can see it myself.
    5. If I am already going online to download content, that I cant get in Australia live, like Misfits, Orphan Black, etc. Why wouldn't I download everything else I need also, such as music and Australian available content.
    6. If we are going to let these conglomerates have a monopoly on our market, atleast ensure they make all content available at the same price as the countries they are made in.

    Last edited 09/09/14 10:45 am

    Sensationalist Headline is Sensational

    Although Choice's chart is only measuring a single aspect it doesn't make it wrong, it's just that there are other factors that you should take into account.

    I'd argue that most consumers rarely rewatch media content, that the difference between a rental and ownership doesn't matter to at the very least a reasonable portion of this message's target audience.

    Now on the other hand, the target audience of techy/nerdy sites like yours almost entirely would be likely to rewatch content which makes purchasing more value inclusive.

    But if I just want to watch Season 5 of the Walking Dead once, see what's happening and want to do it in the cheapest way possible... Why should I care if it's streaming or owning? Hell if I can stream it 3 times for the same price then it still may be worth streaming a second time down the road... Or perhaps the cost to own will have dropped.

    There's other subtleties I won't go into, but in short the comparison is a lot more useful than you posit.

    by the time you may want to rewatch a series they'll be in the bargain bins

    Don't forget to consider how hard it is for a) some of us to stream content with the current state of broadband which makes downloading content less of a hassle and b) that the current way that broadband is distributed to us means we need to watch our download quota levels so downloading a lower quality option is often preferred as well to streaming or the only available in HD downloads. The point should be why aren't these content providers making individual content available for the right cost.

    (By the way your guest access didn't work on opera mobile.)

    Based on on my personal usage I think the Choice comparison is valid. We use itunes, streaming and pay tv to watch our favourite shows. We do not distinguish at all between rentals, stream and purchased content for this purpose. The decision is simply to use whatever format we can get the show in fastest at the time we want to watch it. We happen to buy episodes on itunes rather than rent them because for some reason our Apple TV downloads purshases way faster than rentals. We never go back and watch these episodes so it means nothing to us that we have the option for purchases as distinct from rentals. I'll stream other content because it isn't available on itunes of my pay-tv provider or buy it for download. To me it doesn't matter whether I use one method versus another. The choice is often driven by Foxtel's monoloply power in Australia and geoblocking. On that basis it seems entirely valid to assess the relative price for an Australian to access a show in Australia by comparing the cost of whatever method is open to a consumer here to the overseas options available to offshore customers.

    As several commenters have pointed out, the argument you're making here's a bit dubious. Yes, you technically "own" the copy you buy from iTunes... but you own it in a way that cannot be shared, given away or resold, so the only value of "owning" it is that you can re-watch it without having to pay for it again... but it's a form of media which, frankly, most people aren't going to watch more than once. How often are you re-watching the same shows?
    Also, whereas $30 on iTunes gets you just one season of Orange is the New Black, $8.56 gets you everything on Netflix.
    The point Choice is making here is that Australians are getting ripped off. And they're not wrong.

    The walking dead is available on Netflix, granted not season 5. Choice have gone beyond a joke in their current campaign. According to them anything that isn't at the price they want is basically fair game for theft. Even the prices they quote I don't think are even that bad, the most expensive price they listed was on itunes at $2.49 an episode for the walking dead, is that really too much to ask for a series with no ads? Foxtel play was $1.42 an episode. Middle class entitlement is at its finest hour in the current piracy debate.

    Last edited 09/09/14 11:14 pm

      According to them anything that isn't at the price they want is basically fair game for theft

      How so?
      They're comparing the price that it is legally available for across the globe and asking why is the Australian price many multiples higher?
      I see no comparison at all with them encouraging Copyright Infringement (and certainly not theft)

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