Netflix Australia launch raises more questions

Yesterday, Netflix launched in Australia to the excitement of fans everywhere. For as little as $8.99 we can have (legal) access to over two billion hours of streamed TV shows and movie content per month, including hit shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Madmen. With its launch, Netflix will disrupt content from services like Stan, Presto and Quickflix, whilst creating some competition for free to air TV and paid services like Foxtel.

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House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey is one of many hit TV shows available on Netflix Australia

But we know all of this. There has been a lot of hype around the long awaited SVOD (Streaming Video On Demand) platform launch at midnight Monday night, which by now has already seen thousands of new subscribers across the country, joining the 53.1 million members in 50 countries worldwide.

What remains to be seen however, is the way in which Netflix Australia will start to engage with its Australian consumers and legislative structures that surround the online environment in which it operates. The major question on our lips is: will Netflix use its influence and power for good or for evil?

COMPETITION & INNOVATION

Entering the Australian TV streaming content market as a disruptor presents a variety of challenges, the least of which is the brand risk of unfairly drwoning out local competition. In recent months, Netflix has regularly noted that one of its new goals is to “promote fair competition through shared innovation”. CEO Reed Hastings is excited about taking on companies that already have a head start and local knowledge. “The competition between us [Stan, Presto and Netflix] will be fun and intense and great for Australians. We’re all going to scramble for content with these services”.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is excited about the opportunities that the Australian market holds for innovation and is ready to take on the competition

Take this conversation a step further, and we wonder whether Netflix will help to foster innovation in Australia, not just through original Australian content, but by visibly encouraging improvement in the quality of our internet capabilities. Increasing speeds and working with services providers to eliminate restrictive data caps could give Australians access to higher standards of information technology already seen across Western Europe and the US.

PIRACY & PRIVACY

Another international issue currently plaguing Aussie ISP’s is internet piracy; Netflix is able to not only enter the national discussion, but to actively discourage the practice. Internet piracy happens predominantly because users don’t have legal means to access content, or they just don’t want to pay for it. Generally most pirates are happy to pay, which has resulted in a strong uptake of Aussies using overseas VPN services to access SVOD services like Netflix. By simply entering the Australian market, Netflix may had already kicked a significant dent in the rates of piracy, although this remains to be seen in the coming months.

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SVOD services like Netflix could really diminish internet piracy in Australia

With this issue, comes the issue of internet privacy and mandatory metadata retention. A metadata retention bill is likely to be passed by the House of Representatives this week which if it becomes law, has the capacity to significantly impact individuals’ right to privacy in Australia. Netflix is already on record over internet-related legislation, involving itself in the US net neutrality debate. Although they may have come too late to the party (given that the bill may be passed soon), Netflix could become an outspoken advocate for individuals’ right to privacy, in the way that iiNet has done, but again it remains to be seen.

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Netflix’s corporate social responsibility mandate has five clear goals. Outside of its major goals, it has some room to move, to be creative in how it embeds itself in the Australian community.

Netflix CSR

At present, Netflix is expanding its content library to reflect the interests of socially responsible millenials. President of Third Eye Media, Sheila Shayon notes that in recent months, the brand has been ‘shrewdly acquiring exclusive rights to several cause-related and hard-hitting documentaries in a bit for broader adoption by Millennials‘. Netflix may continue to do this in an Australian context, aquiring presentation rights to local content on indigenous rights, renewable energy, perhaps even the rights to The Frackman, which has sparked further debate over fracking practices in Queensland and New South Wales. They may even go so far as to start creating original content for Australian audiences, although it is too early in the piece for this to be considered yet.

For now, Netflix is engaging with service providers like iiNet and Optus to secure its position in the Australian market, and once it is established it will have the capacity and the base on which to build a socially conscious following. It certainly has the mandates and the structures to make a difference, but will it be a real cultural priority, or one that solely benefits its bottom line and membership rates?

A lot remains to be seen.