Netflix Australia: What we know

With Netflix set to launch its Australian service on March 24 this year, there are a lot of rumours and whispers doing the rounds -- we break down the actual facts.

Nic Healey Senior Editor / Australia
Nic Healey is a Senior Editor with CNET, based in the Australia office. His passions include bourbon, video games and boring strangers with photos of his cat.
Nic Healey
6 min read

Come March 24, Australians can officially join the 50-million-plus Netflix subscribers in North America, South America and parts of Western Europe.

It's looking like 2015 will be a big year for streaming services locally, with Stan -- the Fairfax/Nine Network joint venture -- launching, joining established players such as Quickflix and EzyFlix. Netflix, with its library of TV and movies, has the advantage of already having a strong brand recognition in Australia, largely in part to the news coverage around local users circumventing Netflix's geoblocking controls to access the US version of the service.

As with any big announcement, the rumour mill is hard at work grinding out more chaff than grain. We're breaking down the definitive facts we have from Netflix itself about its upcoming Australian offering.

"It's launching on this date for this much per month"

Back in November 2014, Netflix confirmed that it was working on a March 2015 launch date for Australia, and that has now been confirmed as March 24. The service will offer a three tier system the same as the US. The offerings will be: Basic, SD streaming to one screen for AU$8.99; Standard, simultaneous streaming to two screens and HD where available, costing AU$11.99; and Premium, four-screen streaming and 4K ultra-high definition where available all for AU$14.99.

"These are the shows we'll be getting"

Once again, Netflix has not given a definitive rundown of what shows will be available at launch. What they have said is that the show list at day one will be the "smallest amount of content you'll see."

This doesn't mean that there won't be a lot of shows and films on offer. What Netflix means is that it will bring in new content based on what Aussies are watching and build out the catalogue based on demand. What we do end up watching may end up being influenced by Netflix' recommendation engine, which is a powerful series of algorithms that work behind the scenes to determines what shows get suggested to you by the service.

What it has confirmed are a small number of its original shows that will definitely be available at in Australia launch:

  • " Marco Polo"
  • "BoJack Horseman" (animated)
  • "Virunga" (documentary)
  • "Mission Blue" (documentary)
  • "Uganda Be Kidding Me, Live" (comedy special)
  • "Jim Jeffries: Bare" (comedy special)

Marco Polo is confirmed for Australian launch Phil Bray/Netflix

The following Netflix original shows are coming to Australia later in 2015:

Netflix also recently announced a deal with Beyond Entertainment for some Australian comedy specials and kids TV series. Other content partners include Roadshow Entertainment, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and The Walt Disney Company.

"Australia will get different shows to the US"

This one is true, but for some people there's a sense that this means we'll be getting a "lesser Netflix" experience. Netflix is bound by its licensing agreements the same as any other content provider -- it negotiates with the rights holders of shows and movies. That means some rights are be assigned regionally and others globally.

Where this gets a little bit unusual is that Netflix is also a content creator thanks to its original series programming and this makes the company both a rights holder and a content provider. Netflix has licensed out some of its own content -- "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black" are two of the oft-cited examples. This means that there are other content services in Australia -- be they pay TV or free-to-air -- that will have the rights to those shows locally. Netflix has said that it may look at buying back the rights for some shows, but more importantly its ongoing original content will have the global rights remain with Netflix.

When launching the pricing, Netflix also announced that it will have the premiere rights for the new seasons of "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black", as well as having previous seasons of both shows available at launch.

Specifically, the chief product officer of Netflix, Neil Hunt, said that "scenarios such as Foxtel and House of Cards will be an historical footnote."

Licensing deals such as that with Foxtel and "House of Cards" will become a thing of the past, says Netflix. Netflix

In the future Netflix will also try and purchase global rights for non-original shows, but until that happens it's worth noting that Australia will get some shows that the US doesn't, again of because of the associated broadcast rights.

Todd Yellin, the head of product innovation for Netflix said: "people seem to falsely believe that there's this US catalogue and then other markets get a subset of that -- that's just not true".

"Netflix is starting to block VPN users in the lead up to launch"

Netflix is categorically denying that it has made any changes to its policy around people using a VPN to access the American version of the service. It's been an ongoing bee in the bonnet of local content providers in Australia as local media subscribers will mask their location to access the US version of Netflix. Hunt has said that "people who are using a VPN to access our service from outside of the area will find that it still works exactly as it has always done".

Netflix does blacklist known VPNs -- it always has -- and it does this because of the exact global-versus-local rights issues that we looked at before. It's also against the Netflix terms of service to be using a VPN to circumvent geoblocking, even though you are paying for the service.

So why did people think that a VPN crackdown might have begun? According to Hunt, the only thing that Netflix has changed is some of the technology behind the Netflix Android app.

"On the Android app we added a failsafe, so that if DNS times out we fall back to Google DNS," Hunt said. This could result in the app ignoring the VPN's DNS settings, which is what allows access from outside of regular regions. It would also only affect the Android application.

"It's not intended to steer people away from VPN -- it's intended to make the application more robust when your own DNS provider is failing," said Hunt.

Both Hunt and Yellin also said that there was no "mythical switch" that the company could flick to turn off VPN access -- the very nature of a VPN makes it hard to determine who is using one.

More telling is what Edwards said during a visit to Sydney at the end of 2014 when he said that company tends to see so-called backdoor access via VPN drop off when it launches in a new area: "people discover that the locally-based service that's tailored to the audience is actually kinda good".

Anything else?

While Netflix is going to offer 4K streaming content "where available" its still unclear just how well Australian broadband will be able to cope with this. In fact the Q3 2014 Akamai State of the Internet report shows that Australia has dropped in term of 4K-ready performance from Q2. Akamai defines 4K-ready as 15Mbps or above: only 5.8 percent of Australia achieve that broadband speed, down from 6.7 in the previous quarter. (In it's help centre Netflix recommends 25Mbps or above for 4K streaming.)

Netflix also launched its Netflix Recommended TV program during CES 2015. This is a way for Netflix to indicate at the point of purchase which smart TVs offer the best service. At the moment, this is a US-only program, although it may look at bringing it to other markets "later".

Check back on this story as more information from Netflix regarding its Australian launch becomes available.

Updated on March 3, 12.32 p.m. AEDT: Added launch information.

Updated on March 23, 11.45 a.m. AEDT: Added pricing information.