It was one of the worst-kept secrets online for a good few years, and most of those who were in on it would have seen the writing on the wall long before it officially arrived in Australia – on-demand streaming TV was going to change the way we watched. Using some simple tricks to make companies like Netflix and Hulu think they were talking to someone in the US, it had become possible to stream shows and movies from those services in the US, and soon hundreds of thousands of Australians were in on it. But it was only when local streaming service Stan launched, closely followed by the official launch of Netflix, that masses of Australians got to try on-demand streaming for themselves. Australia’s always been a country that adopts new technology quickly, and streaming video – despite a notoriously flaky Australian internet – quickly became the TV platform of choice for millions of people.
It’s easy to see why – a low monthly flat fee gives you access to stream thousands of TV shows and movies in high definition, with no ad breaks, no on-screen watermarks or advertising, no censorship and no waiting until next week for another episode. The choice is placed directly in the hands of viewers, and they’ve been loving it. And with Netflix, Stan and even Presto producing their own exclusive content, the streaming services are turning into the new mainstream TV channels – but now, you’re the one in charge.
The granddaddy of them all, some would say, is Netflix. And to be fair, that’s not entirely true; certainly Netflix wasn’t the first on-demand streaming video service on the planet. But the way they tweaked, adjusted and refined the very model of a streaming service, THAT’S their secret sauce – and it’s a model most of their competitors have since followed.
Originally a video library service dealing in physical DVDs that they’d send out to renters by mail (a model Quickflix later emulated here in Australia), Netflix decided to offer extra convenience to its customers by giving them access to streaming versions of some of the things they were hiring – giving them instant access to their rentals rather than having to wait for the postman. This became so popular so quickly, the service grew to eclipse the disc rental side of the business and as word of mouth spread, Netflix’s “instant access” soon became the most popular element of Netflix’s business. Far from fighting it, they expanded it – making sure they had apps for their service on every imaginable platform and, in recent years, expanding to service almost every country on the planet.
Netflix’s reputation for content variety, picture quality and reliability is only enhanced by its growing catalogue of “Netflix Original” productions, which are every bit the equal of the best of HBO or Showtime.
Actually beating Netflix to launching in Australia by a few months, Stan had been in development for a long time before receiving its name (nobody’s quite sure why
it’s named Stan!) and distinctive blue logo. Part of a joint venture between newspaper publisher Fairfax (The Age, SMH amongst many others) and Nine Entertainment, Stan started off modestly, with a flat $10 monthly fee almost issuing a challenge to Netflix
to match the price (which technically, they didn’t).
Stan’s strength from the beginning has been in its depth of content
, with the company securing deals with major international studios and distributors that range from premium US cable TV (such as their deal with Showtime) to mainstream entertainment through the likes of Warner Brothers. Almost every genre has a sizable library of content on Stan
, whether it’s binge-worthy drama series or acclaimed world cinema.
They’ve also pioneered “fast tracking” new shows as they air in the US – most notably with the latest Showtime content. In some ways, that makes Stan seem even more like a disruptive TV station than Netflix does. Their customers clearly like what they’re seeing, with the subscriber count continuing to rise and apps for the service appearing on more platforms.
Though it’s been around for some years now – pre-dating the other streaming services – Foxtel Play is actually more of a hybrid between a multi-channel streaming version of the full Foxtel service and an on-demand streaming model. At its core, though, it’s a service that gives you direct streaming access to live Foxtel channels as they air, letting you access Foxtel without needing to actually have it physically installed.
But on top of that, Foxtel Play offers on-demand access to a huge range of Foxtel movies and shows – including prize HBO content such as Game of Thrones – making the service a kind of bridge between conventional scheduled TV and the new age of on-demand entertainment. Foxtel Play is undergoing a revamp at the end of 2016, which looks likely to see it move closer to being a full-fledged on-demand streaming service. Watch this space.
How fast a broadband connection you need for streaming services depends on a few things – firstly, what level of picture quality you’re happy with. If you want to stream 1080p high definition (offered by all the streaming services) you’ll want a connection that’s a little faster than the bare minimums quoted by providers. In general, if you’re able to sustain a speed of around 8 Mbps on a speed test, then you should be good to go for HD. Slower than that, and providers will automatically lower the video quality to match your connection speed. At an absolute minimum, you’ll need a broadband connection capable of 3 Mbps for reliable streaming in standard definition.
Not at the moment, no – all of the streaming services live up to their descriptions by only offering on-demand streaming video. Whereas with services like iTunes you can pre-download a movie before watching it – making it far more friendly to slower or less reliable broadband connections – with streaming services you’ll need to be online with reasonably decent broadband to watch. However, there is word that this might change soon, with Netflix rumoured to seriously be considering adding an offline-download option to their service soon.
You could substitute the name of any other current TV show or latest-release movie in that question, and the answer would be the same – the all-you-can-eat model for streaming TV is generally based around offering complete seasons of shows some time after they’re aired elsewhere then spent some time as digital purchases. This is largely up to the owners of the shows, rather than the streaming services themselves. There are exceptions, though – such as Stan’s deal with Showtime that gives them fast-tracked first-run episodes hours after they air on TV in the US. As for Game of Thrones, though, you’ll never see it on Netflix – HBO likes to keep their shows to themselves!
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