If you’re the type of person who loves their documentaries, you’ll know the story. Turn on the TV, head straight for the ABC and SBS, hunt around for something interesting to discover. Every time you fire up Foxtel you’re headed straight to the Docos section, a channel pack you consider mandatory, to see what’s on offer. No, you’re definitely not alone. But those of us that love a good documentary have long had that one key frustration – being at the mercy of network programming, schedules and tastes. Sure, there’s the occasional must-see doco on, but you have to scour the program guides and become a champion at setting the PVR to catch it. If only there was a streaming service… just for documentaries!
The good news: there is! The people at Madman Entertainment – an esteemed Australian independent film and TV distributor and producer with decades of experience – are fans of documentaries too, and they realised there was a big gap in the market that desperately needed filling. Having previously created the AnimeLab streaming service especially for fans of Manga animation, Madman already had experience with setting up a streaming service and had the platform ready to go. And on the content side, the company’s extensive Australian and international library was bursting at the seams with quality documentaries. And so DocPlay was born at the end of 2016, and has been enjoying a unique place in the landscape of Australian streaming services ever since.
What Makes DocPlay Unique?
While you’ll find a section for docos on just about every general streaming service, from Netflix and Stan to the public library-run Kanopy, what’s on offer can be slim pickings indeed if you’re after something with a bit of substance to it. That’s not to say all the documentary content on those services is bad – it’s not – but the task of digging out the good stuff is left to you, wading through movies and sitcoms and Japanese shows about house tidying just to get to a list of what you can watch.
Streaming services can also tend to be repositories for some seriously dodgy documentaries, with some online streaming services perhaps considering them as cheap filler content that helps bulk up the library. When you’re looking for a good documentary to watch and keep bumping up against moon landing conspiracies, “unauthorised” fan-made music docos and a sea of stuff about Hitler, the frustration is very real.
DocPlay solves this in two ways – by only offering documentaries, for starters. No more hunting around trying to weed out the docos from in between all that “suggested” content – here, it’s wall to wall docos, hundreds of them. Secondly, the key word here is quality – sure, not every topic will be of interest to you, but the DocPlay team hasn’t just found every doco they could get their hands on to bulk up the library. The stuff available here is quality, whether it’s an acclaimed film about backing singers for famous rock stars (20 Feet From Stardom), the environment (Blackfish) or religion (Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie).
There are sections filled with docos that cover everything from movies to crime, surfing to songwriting and everything in between, with new titles regularly added to give you a reason to keep coming back – though to make a sizeable dent in the content that’s already there would take many months!
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What Does DocPlay Offer?
Unlike the majority of streaming services, with their tired plans based on both streaming quality and number of simultaneous users or devices, DocPlay likes to keep things simple. The website may have a “view plans” button, but click on it and you’ll soon discover that there is only one single plan – DocPlay Premium.
This costs a decidedly not-expensive $6.95 per month, or if you’d prefer to pay for an entire year up front it’ll cost you $69.50, effectively giving you two months of the year completely free.
When DocPlay launched, there was originally an option to watch a small selection of docos free of charge, with some restrictions – ads, no HD, no viewing on streaming devices. That free tier looks to have been scrapped now, which makes perfect sense. The value of DocPlay is in the exploration of its library and finding something that grabs your interest, and $6.95 a month for full access to do that is trivial.
Unlike most streaming services, you can browse the full library before signing up, to see what you’d be getting. But there’s a much better sweetener – the first month is completely free anyway. Sign up with any credit card and explore and watch to your heart’s content – and if you’re not finding it a good fit for you, cancel without paying a cent.
That “just one more” factor that you run into with a good documentary library, though, is something that’s very likely to keep you hanging around for a lot longer than that.
While streaming services backed by billion-dollar companies launch with apps on just one or two platforms (hello Ten All Access), the team at DocPlay has clearly recognised how important it is to have solid app support right from the start, and they continue to expand it to new devices.
Their first apps out of the gate were for Apple devices, with iOS and Apple TV both getting beautifully designed, easy to use apps that get you to the content quickly and seamlessly. These apps also let you sign up for a premium account directly on the device, using your iTunes account or Apple Pay for payment rather than directly entering a credit card number. If you choose to subscribe this way, it’ll cost a little more – $7.99 per month or $79.99 per year – to help offset the percentage that Apple takes from every subscription.
Android phones and tablets are supported as well – along with Android TV, which puts the DocPlay app on most current Sony TVs along with popular Android TV powered streaming boxes like Nvidia Shield, the Foxtel Now box and Vodafone TV.
Telstra TV users aren’t left out – DocPlay quickly had an app ready to go for these popular devices, making sure that people using the Telstra TV 2 (or the just-released 3rd generation model) as their entertainment hub can easily access DocPlay.
Chromecast is of course supported directly from the iOS and Android phone and tablet apps.
And released at the end of 2018 was their latest app – for the Xbox One game console, which is a popular choice for watching video as well thanks to its superior format support and quality.
All devices support streaming up to 1080p high definition – which covers most modern content, though you will run into the occasional older title that was made before HD become commonplace.
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Does DocPlay Have Any Unique Content?
While DocPlay itself doesn’t produce its own content, parent company Madman does – and alongside that, DocPlay has a partnership with the Documentary Australia Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to foster social impact through the stories told in documentaries – some of which they finance themselves.
Does DocPlay Deliver?
If you’re the sort of person who just loves a good doco and finds nothing more relaxing than to sit down and watch a real-world story being told, DocPlay is most definitely for you. But even better, if you’re a fan of serious documentary filmmaking and like to be challenged and intrigued, there’s a wealth of content on DocPlay for you as well.
With a single-tier monthly (or annual) price that’s hard to beat at a mere $6.95, quality apps on almost all key platforms and a company backing it that has access to a never-ending stream of content, DocPlay is well worth checking out – and we’re willing to bet that if you come for a look around you will, as we did, find it hard to leave!