Netflix is coming, but is your bandwidth good enough?
In the US, Netflix is one of the largest players in the online streaming video space, offering a catalog of thousands of movies and TV series for a low monthly fee. So low, in fact, that a number of Australian users have already started availing themselves of Netflix’s services via VPN or DNS redirection to make it seem as though their connections are actually in the US and thus eligible for Netflix services.
Come March 2015, and those same users will, in theory, be able to drop their VPN, as after months of speculation, dropped hints from other players and some reaction moves from other streaming players such as Quickflix and Foxtel, Netflix has finally announced that it’ll launch Netflix down under next year. Using a VPN or DNS always involves some kind of speed hit, because your traffic has to go through a proxy server in order to appear to be in the appropriate location you’re spoofing — or to hide your location if that’s your VPN purpose.
Figures as to Australian Netflix account users vary quite wildly. CHOICE recently surveyed and suggested it could be as many as 340,000 accounts already in Australia. That leaves a lot of potential customers for Netflix to snaffle up, but it seems less likely that the existing customer base will simply jump over to Netflix Australia, and that’s for one simple reason. While Netflix hasn’t made any wide scale announcements regarding its Australian streaming video catalog, the reality is that it’s unlikely to have anywhere near its US catalog size to draw from. That’s because there are already existing players such as Foxtel, Quickflix, and another new competitor streaming service being run jointly by Channel 9 and Fairfax called “Stan” that are also locking down exclusive rights to program. As an example, while Stan has yet to launch in Australia, it’s already hyping up the exclusive for Breaking Bad and its new spinoff, Better Call Saul. Foxtel is clearly the big dog in this particular fight, and it’s even feasible (although not yet confirmed) that some series that Netflix developed itself, House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black may in fact be Foxtel exclusives in Australia due to deals already cut with Netflix US before they decided to launch here.
There are other issues for a streaming-only service such as Netflix in Australia, however. Whereas Foxtel offers its services as net streaming and via cable/satellite, Netflix is entirely reliant on the quality of your broadband connection, and Australian connections, on the whole, are generally poor. That’s a particular concern for Netflix because when it launches, it’s hyping that it’ll offer some 4K TV content as well as Full HD, where its competitors are at Full HD at best. 4K content can look spectacular, but it uses a lot of data along the way. Around 18GB for an hour of content, which on the limited cap plans many Australians have could just be a little rich. That’s presuming you’ve got a wide enough data pipe to manage 4K in the first place, with Netflix’s own estimates suggesting a 25Mbps connection as ideal. Given that Australian average figures suggest a connection speed of just 15Mbps, that might be unachievable for many.
What’s undeniable is that streaming TV is rapidly expanding in Australia, whether we all opt to stream via Netflix, view via YouTube or relax in front of iView. There’s a lot of competition, and a lot of choices — and we’re all going to need more bandwidth!