The last year has seen subscription video on demand (SVOD) become a major talking point, with various players vying to become the Netflix of New Zealand. However, claiming this title will now be difficult following the announcement that the actual Netflix plans to launch in both Australia and New Zealand in March next year.
In a release sent to the media on 18 November, Netflix announced that its service would expand into the country, making it possible for internet users to access the service regardless of their internet service provider (ISP) and without having to dabble in IP address trickery.
Until now, Kiwis have only been able to access Netflix through the backdoor by hiding their IP addresses or through the global mode service offered by Slingshot and Big Pipe.
In July this year, Slingshot found itself in hot water with the nation's broadcasters, with TVNZ, MediaWorks and Sky all pulling the plug on a pair of TVCs that openly referred to global mode.
At the time of broadcaster snub, Slingshot general manager Taryn Hamilton was vocal in his annoyance, comparing the banning of the ad to "protectionism and censorship".
Now, following the Netflix announcement, Hamilton has again released a statement, this time applauding the arrival of Netflix in New Zealand.
“When we opened up Global Mode to all of our customers earlier this year it was because we wanted to give Kiwis the chance to have access to the same online content – for the same price – that people in other parts of the world have access to," he said. “So it’s great to hear Netflix will be launching in NZ soon. We hope that kiwis get as good a quality line-up of content and at a comparable price point to what US Netflix users enjoy. And we also look forward to more services similar to Netflix coming into the local market as well.”
While Hamilton has welcomed the international SVOD player to the market, this isn't necessarily ideal for Slingshot. While Global Mode still provides access to other content that can't be watched with a Kiwi IP address, Netflix was one of Slingshot's main drawcards. And the arrival of the company in the Australasian market essentially democratises a significant point of difference for Slingshot.
When Netflix first announced intentions about entering the Kiwi market, there were some question marks hanging over whether the SVOD player would be able to secure rights to its programmes for the Australasian market. However, in its release, Netflix did provide the following list of provisional programming for the Australian and Kiwi market:
At launch, the premium and unique Netflix offering will include such original series as Marco Polo, BoJack Horseman and, among many kids titles, DreamWorks Animation’s All Hail King Julien.
Netflix, available on hundreds of Internet-connected devices, will also be home to the critically acclaimed documentaries Virunga and Mission Blue, and stand-up comedy specials Uganda Be Kidding Me, Live, from Chelsea Handler and Jim Jefferies’s BARE, among many others.
The Netflix ANZ selection will expand in 2015 to include highly anticipated original series family thriller Bloodline starring Ben Mendelsohn, Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, Linda Cardellini and Sam Shepard; the gripping Super Hero tale Marvel’s Daredevil featuring Charlie Cox, Rosario Dawson, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson and Vincent D’Onofrio; Sense8, a new globe-spanning thriller series from the creators of The Matrix trilogy and Babylon 5, and, from the creator of Friends, Grace and Frankie with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.
Notably absent from this list are the Netflix Originals Orange is the New Black and House of Cards—two shows that Kiwis have already become well acquainted with.
MediaWorks ran House of Cards via 3Now earlier this year, TVNZ recently ran Orange is the New Black via its on-demand offering, and both the first and second seasons of House of Cards are currently available for viewing on Lightbox.
It's still too early to tell what impact Netflix's move into New Zealand might have on deals such as these, but the newcomer will likely want to keep its original programming exclusive to its catalogue.
Elsewhere in SVOD land, Sky's sub-brand Neon announced a lineup this week, which despite featuring a chunky range of shows and movies is noticeably bare in the local department.
While Lightbox and Quickflix have been pushing local content hard with their respective offerings, Neon's lineup currently only includes one Kiwi show, the crime drama The Brokenwood Mysteries. This does however make sense, given that Sky predominantly focuses its local efforts on sports programming, which spans everything from schoolboy rugby to major international spectacles featuring Kiwi professionals (sports programming is not available on Neon).
A spokesperson from Neon says that more information on its programming will be released in the coming weeks, which could see more local content included.
Neon's lineup also doesn't feature much programming geared at children, which is another area that Quickflix and Lightbox have placed emphasis on (the Netflix catalgoue also includes kids' programming).
Sky's SVOD offering—which will be available for $20 per month—instead features a variety of international shows such as From Dusk Till Dawn, Rogue, Crossbones and Penny Dreadful. And the service will also be pulling feature length films out of Sky's movie catalogue, which means that viewers will be able to watch The Dark Knight Rises, My Week with Marilyn, Red Riding Hood and various others.
Among the SVOD players, only Quickflix offers movies in addition to shows as part of its of $12.99 monthly fee. Quickflix does however require users to pay per view for the latest releases.
"These new release movies are available to the entire public as a standalone product (ie no need to be a subscriber) because you can’t license brand new movies into an SVOD catalogue," says Quickflix managing director Paddy Buckley.
But while content is a major driver, it isn't the only factor that's determing the consumption habits of viewers these days. Where the content sits and how easily it can be accessed also plays an important role.
According to a recent release from Samsung, Kiwis still watch 175 minutes of television per TV per day, meaning that innovations such as the smart TV could provide a seamless link between linear and on-demand content. It's for this reason that most of the players in the on-demand market want their apps on the smart TV menus.
This recently saw Lightbox also join the fold by having its app feature on Samsung's TV's, and the SVOD provider's chief executive Kym Niblock said that this move made it easier for viewers to watch shows.
Recent data in the States showed that 28 percent of users now use Netflix apps built into smart TVs to watch shows and movies, a 20 percent increase from the previous year. And while the SVOD market is still in its infancy, Kiwis do tend to be early adopters and the comfort of simply using a remote control could convince some viewers to follow the American lead.
But even if Kiwi viewers don't end up favouring the smart TV choice, this isn't going to slow the steadily growing appetite the nation's viewers have for SVOD content. And if the last year is anything to go by, then 2015 will almost certainly provide a healthy dose of SVOD news as all the players continue trying to become the Netflix of New Zealand.