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Australian streaming: the battle heats up

TV in Australia hasn’t looked the same since the revolutionary streaming platform Netflix hit our shores in 2015.

Fast-forward four years and gone are the days when the nation would sit down at 7.30pm to watch the biggest shows of the time. Now, attention is divided between hundreds of programs and films over a multitude of free-to-air channels or streaming platforms that can be viewed whenever the audience chooses.

However, despite the introduction and relative success of competitor streaming platforms, most notably Amazon Prime and Stan, Netflix still stands as the most dominant streaming option in the country.

But for how long?

Both Disney+ and Apple TV+ are planning to launch in November, with many observers characterising them as potential “Netflix killers”. And others are keen to follow.

Daily Review takes a look at what the new platforms will offer and whether they can genuinely challenge their more established rivals.

Disney+

Disney now owns an estimated 40 per cent of the US domestic box office after its recent purchase of 21st Century Fox. Its reach is astounding, and now includes huge franchises such as all Disney animations, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pixar, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, ESPN, National Geographic, The Simpsons, Alien/Predator, Avatar, Die Hard, Planet of the Apes and X-Men, not to mention a controlling stake in popular American streaming service Hulu. It stands to reason, the scope they have for Disney Plus is massive.

Already, Netflix is luring viewers with new spin-off shows such as The Mandalorian (based on popular Star Wars character Boba Fett) and a relaunch of Disney fan favourites like Lizzie Maguire and High School Musical. Indeed, perhaps Disney’s biggest hinderance in taking over the market is, well, Disney.

The company has long valued creating content that is family friendly and appealing to as big an audience as possible. However, many of the biggest shows offered by both Netflix and Amazon Prime would not fit into this category. Think of Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Ozark and Black Mirror – all of these shows are specifically targeted at adults, attracting large audiences. Will Disney want to take on movies and shows with excessive violence, swearing or smut that many of Netflix and Prime’s most popular films and series embrace? That remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely.

With this in mind, it is hard to see how Disney can completely take over the streaming market and ‘kill’ Netflix as some are predicting. They may well become the second biggest option, and with some ease, but there remain many unknowns about just how varied the content on Disney+ is likely to be.

If Disney continues its current trend of avoiding anything too explicit (remember, Game of Thrones has been the biggest thing on TV across the globe for the last seven years), it would be hard to see Netflix’s niche being eclipsed any time soon, nor viewers willing to subscribe exclusively to Disney+.

Some commentators have suggested that Disney may eventually break up their content, allowing audiences to select ‘packages’. This would allow the company to create more adult-orientated content and separate it from its family-friendly shows. However, as Foxtel Now has tried something similar in this country (with very limited success), it would be surprising to see Disney stray from Netflix’s successful one-fee-all-access model.

Perhaps the most immediate and significant change to the Australian streaming market will be Disney’s content withdrawal from Channel Nine’s Stan. Stan currently boasts exclusivity on most Disney films for Australian audiences, a smart tie-up that has drawn subscribers. However, this success now looks to be threatened, and it will be interesting to see how Stan copes beyond November.

Disney+

  • Australian launch date: November 19, 2019
  • Cost: $8.99 per month

Apple TV+

Apple first announced details of its new streaming service at its annual showcase in March. Despite the intrigue that routinely surrounds the innovative tech giant, there is significantly less hype – indeed, little known in Australia – about the service that is being launched almost simultaneously with Disney+.

Perhaps this is because Apple has its fingers in so many pies right now – at the same event in March, the behemoth also unveiled a gaming service called Apple Arcade and even a new credit card, Apple Card.

By comparison, and apart from its usual Hollywood blockbuster push, a large proportion of Disney’s efforts seem to be going into their new streaming service. Despite the contrast, it would be foolish to assume that Apple is making only a half-hearted attempt to break into the streaming market.

Apple has already poured $US6 billion into the project to create its starting line-up of programs, demonstrating its eagerness to make a big splash in the competitive pool. Rivals who underestimate Apple’s attempts will do so at their own peril.

Apple has already poured $US6 billion into the project to create its starting line-up of programs, demonstrating its eagerness to make a big splash in the competitive pool.

On its website, Apple boasts that the streaming service will feature “originals from the world’s greatest storytellers”, and if you consider the cast and directors associated with those shows, that promise might be hard to rebuff.

The line-up includes Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell and Reese Witherspoon in a series called Morning Wars; Jason Momoa, who stars in the big budget drama See; and the Space Race epic series, created by Outlander and Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D. Moore. In the months following the launch of Apple TV+, further originals are expected to be added, including movies starring Aaron Paul, Samuel L Jackson, Octavia Spencer and a new psychological thriller from cult hero director M. Night Shyamalan.

While committed to creating originals forever tied to its brand, Apple has been open about the differences between its service and those of its competitors. Apple TV+ will not feature licensed material, so audiences who enjoy revisiting old shows and movies replayed by Netflix and others may be turned off by its considerably smaller library.

This is reflected in the pricing model, with Apple charging only $7.99 per month. Moreover, Apple is giving away a year’s subscription to those who buy a new iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, iMac or iPod. This might reflect Apple’s confidence in its product with such a subsidy giving audiences the opportunity to sample its offering.

The extent of the service’s availability remains unclear, however. Will it be accessible on devices other than Apple’s, such as popular Google device Chromecast or gaming consoles XBOX and PlayStation? It would seem highly unlikely at this stage, which could limit Apple’s audience reach, especially while Apple TV continues to provide users with access to competitors Netflix, Amazon Prime and (soon) Disney+.

With all this in mind, it is hard to imagine Apple TV+ doing any Netflix slaying, at least in the short term.

Apple TV+

  • Australian launch date: 1 November 2019
  • Cost: $7.99 per month

NBC, Warner et al

While it is unclear who will come out victors – and whether anyone can properly unsettle Netflix – viewers can be sure that the battle for streaming service dominance is only just beginning. Both NBC and Warner are currently planning to come in hot in the next couple of years.

With this in mind, how many subscriptions will become too many? How much are audiences willing to pay for multiple services? The market cannot sustain all competitors, and that’s what makes the next few years in TV streaming so interesting.

Each company in the market is striving to assert their uniqueness while simultaneously trying not to stray from the proven model. TV has changed so much in the last five years it is impossible to say how it will look in another five.

In the meantime, Australian streaming audiences are increasingly the winners – spoilt for choice with original content and savouring the prospect of an inevitable price war between the streaming services.

Feature pic: Netflix/supplied.

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