While Netflix isn't officially available in Australia, an estimated 200,000 Aussies have already signed up to the video on-demand streaming service, thanks to the availability of VPN and geo-unblocker services. And this has TV network executives in Australia concerned, as well as Australia's local Netflix equivalent.
In recent times, Australia has become an unlikely leader in downloading pirated TV shows. With the local population embracing U.S. TV shows due to a dearth of good quality local content; the lack of legal viewing options, particularly online; and the monopolistic control the country's single cable TV provider has, have all been contributing factors to the high piracy rate.
For those not willing to go down the piracy route, bypassing geo-blocking seems like the next best option, even if not all of the latest movies and TV shows will be available.
Even as users complain about Netflix's lack of new content, the free-to-air situation in Australia is often worse, with new seasons of TV shows often only shown years after their original airing in the U.S, or not shown at all. The cable TV situation isn't much better either, as the country's sole operator has a monopoly on content, often exclusively as to not allow these to be available on other legal channels such as iTunes.
For those unwilling to pirate and willing to pay, the likes of Netflix and Hulu Plus are far better value, even with the cost of VPNs and geo-unblockers included, than any local options. And it's not only the local pricing that isn't competitive, it's also the variety of depth of content. For example, Australia's answer to Netflix, Quickflix, only has access to a collection of older HBO TV series, and none from other TV networks such as ABC, Fox or NBC. The movie situation isn't much better, with less than 600 older releases available to stream compared to the thousands available on Netflix.
The problem it seems is the major studios' unwillingness to make deals with local operators in terms of licensing, and at the same time, turning a blind eye towards the unauthorized Netflix usage in the country. The latter is something that local operator Quickflix says should warrant further attention.
"The studios have licensed Netflix to distribute content on particular terms in the US and other larger markets, they haven’t licensed Netflix for Australia. I have no doubt that the studios are in discussions with Netflix about VPNs because it is blatantly in breach of terms and Netflix is essentially getting a free ride into Australia," says Quickflix chief executive Stephen Langsford
For now, the use of VPNs and geo-unblockers appears to fall within copyright laws in Australia. On this specific issue in 2011, the then Attorney-General Robert McClelland confirmed that streaming Netflix is not a crime in Australia, even if VPNs are being used.
"In relation to the use of VPNs by Australians to access services such as Hulu and Netflix, on the limited information provided there does not appear to be an infringement of copyright law in Australia," McClelland said in 2011.
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