Australian viewers get a raw deal when it comes to watching our favourite TV shows and movies on the internet. New releases aren't always available when we want it and we pay a lot more for our movies and TV. So just what is the digital divide between the US and Australia? We compare online movie and TV services for what they cost and what shows are available.
The digital divide
Not that long ago, a Foxtel pay TV subscription in Australia was the only way to watch most new TV shows, but it came with a premium price. Australians are now starting to get more streaming options, but they're still costly and you probably won't find all popular TV series on one platform. Restrictive deals between content producers and Foxtel mean you can't watch some series such as Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire on streaming services until after they've screened on Pay TV.
In the US, online streaming services for TV and movies are affordable and flexible, providing lots of content on many different devices. A Netflix or Hulu Plus subscription, for example, is only $8 or $9 a month and will give you a generous selection of TV shows and movies to watch online, whenever and wherever it suits you.
Australia's Quickflix starts at $15, only streams some TV shows and movies, and charges extra to watch certain content. Fetch TV is $30 a month and just watching one new release movie on most platform will cost $7. iTunes Australia and the Google Play store have movies and TV shows, but licensing arrangements mean not all new shows are available when first released.
The variety of streaming services has improved this year and some prices have gone down. Foxtel, feeling the pressure of competition, has launched new online services Presto and Play to compete with the likes of Quickflix and FetchTV. Foxtel has since halved the cost of Presto which is now $10 a month. Dendy Direct launched this year and Streamco, a new streaming services backed by Nine Entertainment and Fairfax Media, is set to launch in 2015. TPG is also expected to launch a TV service in 2015 utilising its fibre network. However, the Hoyts Stream movie streaming site that was expected to be launched in 2014 has been delayed and there's still no launch date.
Streaming vs downloading
A distinction needs to be made between streaming and downloading when it comes to online movie and TV services. Streaming typically means renting and it usually gives you a 24-hour window to watch your content. Downloading, on the other hand, means buying the movie or TV show and storing the file on your device to watch again. Standard definition (SD) movies and TV shows are cheaper to stream and download than high definition (HD) content. Content producers justify this because of the extra cost to produce and store HD shows.
Netflix, Quickflix and iTunes we are comparing are streaming services, although most of them also offer download to buy options. The cost of US services, when you're doing your own calculations, need to factor in paying for VPN (virtual private network) access that hides your Australian location. This is needed to access overseas sites that are blocked to Australians and costs between $5 and $10 per month.
Cheaper content kills piracy
Some people turn to piracy when they might otherwise have paid for content if it were readily available at a reasonable price and in a way that suited them. Piracy undermines the creative industries, but to counter it the industry and legislation need to change to meet the needs of consumers and keep up with advances in technology. The government's 'Three Strikes' proposal won't negate piracy and can be costly and complicated to put into practice. Three Strikes means consumers receive up to two warnings for alleged infringement before being penalised on their third strike. This can include fines, reduced bandwidth and even having their internet access terminated.
Popular new music streaming services like Spotify show that giving consumers what they want, when and how they want it gives them a reason to pay for their entertainment. TV networks and movie studios aren't keeping up with changes in technology and viewer desires, and are often failing to offer content directly to paying consumers.
Australia vs US
In the US, online streaming services for TV and movies are affordable and flexible, allowing you to view lots of content on a range of devices. Choices in Australia are much more limited; some TV series are screened on free-to-air TV, but they're often far behind the US and scheduling can be disrupted or delayed by other programs. Popular series like Mad Men and Breaking Bad have been broadcast well behind their US release dates – by a matter of years in some cases.
Amazon Prime is an online movie and TV portal from the book selling giant. Yearly subscription provides access to movies and TV shows – including new release titles and kids' shows – as well as e-book loans.
Hulu has a large catalogue of TV and movies including Revenge, Glee, The Good Wife, Modern Family, Grey's Anatomy, Southpark and Doctor Who, as well as foreign language shows. The service includes free short- and long-form content, including TV shows and clips from popular shows, interviews with TV stars and news segments.
In the US, Netflix has an enormous catalogue of TV shows like Breaking Bad, as well as Netflix original series House of Cards, and the exclusive fourth season of Arrested Development. Netflix currently doesn't operate in Australia and there's no definite launch date in sight.
Launched by the arthouse cinema chain, Dendy Direct is one of the newcomers to the online entertainment arena. It has new release movies as well as a good back catalogue of arthouse, cult and popular films. It also has a small offering of local and overseas TV shows including Walking Dead, The Time of our Lives and Borgia. New release movies cost $25 SD/$30 HD to download and $6SD/$7 HD to stream. TV shows vary depending on the number of episodes in each season but work out at about $3 per show.
Cost: $3 per TV episode, $6 new release movies to stream
Ezyflix has TV shows and movies to stream (rent) or download (own) and the cost varies depending on whether they're new or older shows. House of Cards season two, for example, is $35 (SD) and $40 (HD) to download. A new release movie like Captain Philips is $20 (SD) or $25 (HD) to download, whereas library movies like Rush are $6 (SD) and $7 (HD) to stream. EzyFlix is also offering UltraViolet and Disney Digital Copy disc-to-digital downloads.
Cost: from $25 for a TV season pass, $5 new release movies to stream or $20 (SD) to download.
Fetch TV is a subscription TV service that's sold through internet providers iiNet, Optus, Westnest, Internode and Adam Internet. The basic package includes 30 movies a month, catch up TV, YouTube and access on tablets and mobiles with the Fetch TV app.
Cost: $30 per month for basic and entertainment package, with new release movies at $6 (HD) and library movies for $4.
The basic package is $47, but it costs another $25 per month for the package that includes more than 30 different series, like House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Girls, Nurse Jackie, Dexter, and True Blood. However, you can only watch the season Foxtel is screening and have to wait for previous seasons to screen if you want to catch up. The Foxtel GO app means subscribers can watch shows on tablets and smartphones.
Cost: $74 per month for basic plus movies and TV pack.
Foxtel Play is an internet-based movie and TV streaming service that works on Windows and Mac computers, as well as Xbox 360 consoles, some LG and Samsung smart TVs and Blu-ray players. The basic package is $25 per month, with new release TV shows and movies costing an additional $25 per month.
Cost: $50 per month for basic and entertainment package.
Presto is an online movie service that is available on Windows and Mac computers, with apps for iOS and Android devices to be released later this year. It will stream movies from major studios including MGM, Paramount, Roadshow, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Disney, Warner, Hopscotch, ICON, StudioCanal and Transmission Films, and works with the Foxtel Go companion app to watch shows on a smartphone or tablet.
Cost: $10 per month.
The Play store has movies and TV shows to stream and download. New release TV episodes are $3 each or $30 to $40 per season depending on how many episodes in each season. TV series include Orange is the New Black and Doctor Who and mainstream new release movies.
Cost: New release movies $6 (SD) and $7 (HD) to stream and $20 to buy
iTunes has movies to buy or rent and TV shows can be bought individually or for the full season. However, the Australian iTunes store doesn't always have TV shows such as Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire
that are currently screening on pay TV or on streaming sites in the US available at the same time.
Cost: TV shows cost $3 (SD) and $3.50 (HD) or $30 to $40 per season depending on the number of episodes. New release movies are $6 (SD) and $7 (HD) to rent.
Quickflix is an online movie and TV streaming service with a DVD post-out service. It also has pay-per-view movies and season passes for TV shows. The collection includes popular TV shows like The Sopranos, Veep, True Blood and Game of Thrones, which can be viewed on iPhones, iPads and Android phones and tablets, as well as computers, Xbox and PS3 gaming consoles, and some TVs.
Cost: Movie and TV subscriptions from $15 to $35 per month.
Some streaming services are linked to DVDs. Using this system, consumers first buy the disc and are then provided with a code to stream or download a file to watch on a computer or tablet. UltraViolet is one of these cloud-based digital movie systems that lets you download or stream content to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
In Australia, UltraViolet-branded movies can be downloaded from JB Hi-Fi NOW and Flixster. A disc-to-cloud service is available through EzyFlix that will convert DVD and Blu-ray discs for $2 and upgrade to HD for $5. In the US, Vudu offers disc-to-download movies.
Disney Movies Anywhere is a newly-launched US site that has Disney and Pixar movies available, including classics like Mickey Mouse and Cinderella. Movies can be watched through a browser, but there is also an iOS app, and any Disney movies bought through iTunes are also watchable.
A virtual tunnel to US entertainment
Some Australian viewers have been able to circumvent restrictive geo-blocks using legal paid virtual private network (VPN) services like unblock-us.com and blockless.tv. These VPNs cost about $5 per month and effectively hide your computer's country address when accessing overseas websites. Doing this, viewers then sign up to services like NetFlix or Hulu Plus that aren't available here.
Hola has a free as well as a paid VPN service that will connect with overseas sites. The Hola browser plug-in has Chrome and Firefox versions for both Windows and Macs. It works with a range of online music and video services including Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, iTV and Channel 4.
Similarly, Media Hint also offers Chrome and Firefox plugins. The service works in the background, unlike Hola, which has an icon in the desktop toolbar to indicate it's running.
If you're looking for free movies and TV shows to stream, then you've got plenty of options when it comes to both the commercial and public broadcasters. Local free-to-air TV networks were slow to realise that viewers want to watch shows on demand, but all now offer catch-up services and apps for watching online through a computer or on a mobile device.
If you've got a smart TV that's connected to the internet, you can watch ABC and SBS content direct to the TV. If not, then you can use a computer, tablet or smartphone and the network's catch-up TV app to see shows you've missed.
iView screens most ABC programs and keeps them available online or via an iView app for several weeks after broadcast. You can create a watchlist for series.
On Demand has documentaries and TV shows available online and via their app. It also lets you create a playlist.
TENPlay has some shows on its site, although you need to create a log-in to watch shows and create a playlist. There is a TENplay app for iPads and iPhones, Windows 8, Xbox one and Xbox 360, and Sony Bravia smart TVs with an Android version to come later this year.
The 9jumpin catch-up site has news, sport and entertainment shows on offer and a companion 9jumpin app is available for the iPad and iPhone, although there isn't one for Android.
Plus 7 has drama, documentaries and news to view online or through the Plus7 app. There are also versions for iOS and Android tablets and smartphones as well as some Samsung and Sony TVs and Blu-ray players.
What is HbbTV?
Hybrid broadcast broadband TV (HbbTV) is an internet-based TV service that will stream shows to smart TVs and set-top boxes like PVRs. Channel Seven is the first cab off the rank with the launch of the healthyMEtv service. The other free-to-air networks are expected to launch their own services in the near future.
However you look at it, Australians pay more when it comes to entertainment online. There are ways around it, but even the legal versions make you feel like you're sneaking around behind the entertainment industry's back. What we need is a digital revolution in Australia to even out the playing field for lovers of entertainment throughout the world.