Why Netflix won’t stop piracy

More TV than ever before. Photo: Reflexer/flickr;
More TV than ever before. Photo: Reflexer/flickr;


After the launch of Netflix in Australia this week the online streaming debate is once again in the public eye. Despite the increasing number of online subscription services, people are watching entertainment illegally more than ever. With so many TV shows and movies on offer, why are we still refusing to sign up for subscriptions?

The answer: they still simply aren’t good enough.

According to a recent survey I conducted on Facebook (very legitimate data source to be sure), more than 80 per cent of people who watch TV online do so illegally. Everyone surveyed watched more than 50 per cent of their content online, the majority citing it as their main, or only, medium. It’s no wonder companies like Foxtel and the Nine Network are investing in online platforms.

Availability and convenience were the main reasons people watched online. Respondents said they found it frustrating when shows air in the US months before arriving on Aussie shores. In such a digital age there really is no reason we shouldn’t be getting new releases at the same time as everyone else. Television networks are wasting their money bidding for top US shows when the majority of people will have watched them online months before they are broadcast on TV.

Cost is another big factor in streaming TV. Individual subscription services are reasonably priced (Netflix starts at $8.99 per month and Presto at $10), however to watch all the big ticket shows you’d have to subscribe to every service and then some, as they all have noticeable gaps in their libraries. The hit HBO series Game of Thrones hasn’t been picked up by any of them yet, and remains exclusive to Foxtel. Sign up for a few subscription services and the monthly cost racks up pretty quickly.

So what if you just want to pay for a particular show rather than subscribe to a whole library? Pay per program services such as iTunes are notoriously costly, with prices in Australia often being double that of the US site for exactly the same content. In this scenario, shipping costs and taxes can’t be blamed. It’s blatant overpricing. Australian subscription service Quickflicks charges an additional amount for “premium content” on top of the $10 monthly fee. Season 1 of Game of Thrones will set you back $29. At that price, why not just buy the DVD box set at JB Hi-Fi and share it with all of your friends?

Foxtel has tried to adapt to the online marketplace with its new streaming service Presto, anticipating the moment when their customers realize that $100 a month for unfiltered cable channels isn’t such a good deal after all.

In some cases, shows would never have reached our screens had it not been for illegal means. The majority of foreign films and TV shows aren’t bought by the networks or subscription services and probably never will be because they simply don’t appeal to a big enough audience. The bulk of anime (Japanese animation) is only obtainable through back channels, meaning that even if you were willing to pay exorbitant prices, there simply isn’t that option.

For people that prefer a clear conscience, even if you try to watch something legally on a TV network’s website where the content has been uploaded with full permission, the content will be blocked to IP addresses outside the host country. This is not only a problem for Aussies wanting to watch TV on US and UK channels. It also stops Aussies watching TV on their own local networks while travelling overseas. I lived in China for three months and the only way for me to watch my favourite ABC programs was illegally.

The government struggles to understand why so much online entertainment is watched illegally but it is plain for the rest of us to see. A limited number of shows with a hefty price tag that arrive months after they are first broadcast overseas does not a tempting offer make. So come on broadcasting moguls, pick up your game and start offering a reasonable deal.

My suggestion? A cheap, pay per episode service with instant access to every network. I know licencing laws written years before online TV even became a thing are getting in the way. But while you squabble about copyright, millions of dollars of potential revenue is going down the drain – or down the HDMI cable – as people seek better alternatives.

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