Australian Streaming Wars: Which Service Will Fail First?

Image: Netflix, Stan, Apple TV+, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and Foxtel Now

It wasn't that long ago when Australians complained we were sick of paying north of $100 per month so we could watch everything on Foxtel. We imagined the arrival of Netflix would open up a world of entertainment, on the mistaken assumption the streaming giant offered practically everything you'd ever want to watch for a few bucks a month.

With Disney and Apple jostling for a place on our screens, how many streaming services will Aussies pay for before deciding we have more than enough?

Aussies were expected to ditch Pay TV in droves but the big plot twist was that Netflix didn't kill Foxtel. Roy Morgan figures make it clear that we're prepared to sign up for both and even cough up for a third streaming service such as Stan (owned by Nine, the publisher of this masthead).

Of course as more streaming services throw their hat in the ring, it becomes even more expensive to keep up with all your favourite shows. This fragmentation has put us right back where we started.

Right now, counting the recent streaming salvos from Apple and Disney, you're up for $93 every month if you want to watch all the major services with the best picture quality; and that's before you pay for Foxtel or sign up for a streaming sports service like Kayo or Optus Sport. As Aussies tighten their belts, something has to give.

Netflix seems too big to fail, but then so did Blockbuster. The service is bleeding content, losing the Disney library to Stan last year in a move designed to hurt Netflix while Disney+ prepared to launch in Australia this month. As Disney aims to win over young families, Netflix's investment in Boomer-friendly content like The Crown looks like a smart strategic move, locking in multiple family members across generations.

That said, Netflix's latest price hike means you're paying $20 per month to watch in Ultra HD. Most rivals don't charge extra for Ultra HD, except Stan which wants $17, and for that kind of money you can sign up for several rivals. Alternatively the rise of Disney+ and Apple TV+ could see Netflix remain at the top but push Stan further down the pecking order, bumping it out of many lounge rooms as viewers decide they need to draw the line somewhere.

Don't assume it will be smooth sailing for Apple and Disney. Apple's library is so small that some people will struggle to find more than one show worth watching, as it lacks a healthy back catalogue to keep people entertained while they await new releases.

Meanwhile Disney's library looks impressive at first glance, with flagship content from the likes of Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar that's backed by classics like The Simpsons.

Once you scratch the surface you start to question whether the Disney library has staying power, as half of its movie library is more than 30 years old and some of it hasn't aged well.

Unless you're keen to revisit cheesy classics like 1969's The Love Bug, Disney's service might start to wear thin. You can see families signing up over the holidays and then pulling the plug once their kids go back to school.

This is where Disney and Apple's return to the traditional "tune in again next week" schedule might work in their favour, rather than dropping an entire season at once like Netflix.

As we saw with HBO's Game of Thrones, drip-feeding us episodes helps drive weekly water cooler conversations and build momentum. This puts peer pressure on people to maintain their subscription and watch week by week, rather than signing up for one month and bingeing the lot.

With the best movies and TV shows now spread far and wide, piracy also starts to rear its ugly head. Rather than pay for yet another streaming service just to watch one show, some Aussies will feel justified in turning to the BitTorrent channel, unlikely to be hampered by the government's laughable piracy blocking efforts.

Along with file sharing, we'll also see a rise in account sharing; common amongst Foxtel subscribers. Your monthly bill looks less daunting if you subscribe to Netflix, your brother subscribes to Disney+ and your sister to Stan; sharing the logins among the family and including your parents so they can still get their fix of The Crown.

Of course now you're locked in as customers, as everyone else is depending on you to keep up your end of the bargain.

Aussies are clearly happy to pay for more than one streaming video service but, as the bills stack up, it's clear that some of the streaming giants will struggle to stay in the picture.


This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


Comments

    The one that isn't international and doesn't make its own content.

    Unless you're keen to revisit cheesy classics like 1969's The Love Bug, Disney's service might start to wear thin.

    Haha, you should see my D+ watch-list. The average age of titles on that list is older than I am.

    Netflix's investment in Boomer-friendly content like The Crown Really?

    This is where Disney and Apple's return to the traditional "tune in again next week" schedule might work in their favour, rather than dropping an entire season at once like Netflix.

    This seems even more exploitative of the customers. Trickling out content just to force a customer to stay subscribed. Yet another reason to avoid the service.

    I'm really disappointed and frustrated that providers are maintaining the old exclusive content mindset. If every provider theoretically had access to license all the content then you'd see genuine competition, innovation and benefits to the customer. As it stands the benefits all fall the way of the provider.

      Yep they make one show targeted towards older people and now that's their demographic regardless of the fact that they make content for literally every single demographic out there.

      Sounds like the article has a bias to push people towards a certain service when most people would call a weekly release inferior.

    Aussies were expected to ditch Pay TV in droves but the big plot twist was that Netflix didn't kill Foxtel.Only because no longer having a monopoly, Foxtel was forced to drastically lower their prices and restructure their product offerings.

      I'd argue we're still looking at a form of monopoly on a per-show basis. Can't get The Mandalorian anywhere but Disney+, or The Crown without Netflix, etc. We just traded the macro-level monopoly for lots of little ones. To make streaming services truly compete with each other, we need to break open all exclusive content distribution deals.

        You're exactly right. Maybe it shouldn't technically be called a monopoly but it is effectively that. If you could get the same show from multiple providers it'd no longer be a monopoly but exclusivity is basically the same thing with a different name.

        Heck you could argue that Foxtel *never* had a monopoly since you could get the content through other means, like video, FTA TV or the cinema. It was more about being an ad free alternative.

        [advocate role="devil"]
        By definition, you can't have lots of monopolies, little or large. That's why these services, despite spending tens of millions of dollars producing and marketing new content, only charge about $100 a year for people to access it. That's competition working as intended and why these service each cost less per year than Foxtel used to charge per month.

        And while it might make for a nice consumer utopia to wish differently, of course the company that makes a show is going to make it exclusive to their platform. What possible reason could they have to license their content to their direct competitors?
        [/advocate]

          Completely true that you can't have "lots of little monopolies". It's not an elegant phrase, just one that's intended to get across the idea that, in a lot of cases, people want to watch a particular show, and the streaming services (particularly producer-branded ones like Disney+) have used content exclusivity as their carrot. Which is fine, from a business perspective, but is doing harm to the media landscape as a whole. We have competition now. We just don't have competition for who gets your dollars to watch The Mandalorian.

          The only reason a company would have to license its content to its direct competitors would be a legal obligation, which we could enact, though I'm sure it would have the side-effect of reducing or eliminating platform-produced content.

    The tune in each week is annoying. With Disney + there are two series I am watching. The Imagineering Story and The Mandalorian. Then for 6 days of the week, I am looking around with nothing all that interesting to watch. That Jeff Goldbloom show is fine, but I wouldn't miss it. So it's already convinced me to cancel after they are done. Maybe when they fix the Simpsons I'll check it out again. I watched an episode of Talespin, but I'm not exactly going to rewatch that whole series as a guy in my 30s.

    Apple + I'm not subscribing until the two shows I want to watch are finished. Then cancel after that.

    Foxtel, they need to increase their picture quality. When you go from Foxtel to any of the others, the noticeable difference is quite large. I've literally stopped watching some shows which are quite dark and waited for the blu-ray (The 100). As their compression limits high and low ranges. So if a shot is quite dark, it looks like garbage as there just isn't the colour data in their compression. It's passable on a small TV, doesn't hold up to larger ones.

    Stan, possibly going to unsubscribe. Pick it back up when Better Call Saul returns. There's just not that many newly added shows that I watch on it any more. So I'm not regularly on it to see what's there.

    Prime. Because it's all linked in with my amazon stuff and I buy a bit of Amazon Prime, it'll be sticking around for me.

    Netflix regularly adds a lot of stuff I and others in the house watch, so that's not in danger of being cancelled any time soon.

      A bit off topic here, but I wonder whether the colour issues are actually what the shows *should* look like? There was an article recently about how older shows are looking crap with new encoding and better displays. They were actually recorded to look "darker" and that would hide a lot of flaws in the content. With newer remastering they look a lot lighter and reveal a ton of flaws.

      https://www.themarysue.com/remastered-buffy-is-a-butt/

        With Buffy, that's just a complete lack of care or effort. They probably just shipped the remaster off to the lowest bidder with no one actually overseeing or paying attention to the shots. Just doing the assembly of the new footage.

        HBO recently did this careless effort with From The Earth To The Moon. They got some bargain-basement group to do the new "HD" CGI effects. Where they are so bad it ruins the show.

        The Lunar Module isn't even accurately modelled. For iconic designs like that, you notice it looks wrong. Especially when it's intercut with accurate sets. A show like that just doesn't work with crappy inaccurate CGI. Goes against the entire spirit of the show. The CGI is also riddled with errors and mistakes.

        TV studios have just pumped a lot of this stuff out with no care or effort. Whedon may have been against the remaster, but it probably needed him or something from the production making sure it was done correctly.

        As for Foxtel, their compression is just bad. It's a different issue. It appears they cut the high and low ranges of the colour space to save data.

        Take any colour, there's a range of shades from dark to bright. Foxtel's compression is focused around the middle area. Like a bell curve over the colour range. There's more colours in the middle, less at each end. For normal well-lit images, this is fine, as most colours are in this range.

        When a shot is dark, all of a sudden there's way fewer colours to create the image. So it pulls the detail out of the images, makes them fuzzy and the part of the compression algorithm that tracks movement can't properly tell what is going on, which creates blur, ghosting and other problems.

        So shows and films which have a dark look, it looks really bad.

        Then it also appears the compression rate varies in different HD channels. I think it's all still based on an era when people didn't have 75 inch 4k TVs. It's probably fine for most people, they don't notice, care or have a TV where it's an issue. Then there's also the issue that a bunch of channels are still SD in 2019. SD with too much compression on top of that.

    The big winner in the streaming war will be no one. Netflix is making significant amounts of money and everyone and their mothers want in on that action so we're seeing a jump back to piracy for a lot of people. This is a documented number for the first time since Netflix launched piracy has been on the incline.

    Netflix statistically helped reduce piracy in a very significant way. The service was initially inexpensive and vast.

    That was many years ago nowadays the service is double the cost it was for the uhd stream. And the library of third party titles and classic movies is pretty minimal since most of their content is first party now and there's less and less of an interest in getting the latest and greatest movies.

    The average Joe doesn't want to switch between 5 services costing between 7 to 20 each per month to watch TV so that's why these services will be the end of each other

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