Amidst a flurry of legal battles and cries of copyright infringement Paramount movies are set to become available for rental over YouTube for users in the US and Canada. While video streaming services are hardly a new thing in North America this is still another example of society’s gradual but inexorable shift towards digital downloadable media.
Unfortunately, it’s also an example of Australia remaining one step behind when it comes to the distribution of video content. Countries like the US, Canada and increasingly the UK have seen huge steps forwards in terms of the online availability of video on demand services and internet movie rentals.
It is true that Australia does have a variety of options when it comes to over-internet video media, but those services are usually half-baked versions of what our fellow internet goers see overseas.
YouTube movie rentals, Netflix and Hulu are three examples of fantastic online services that require little-to-no money when compared to their scope and availability. Netflix alone requires only a small monthly payment (generally around US $7-$9) and offers a huge library of streamable movies and TV series. That’s and enormous amount of video media at your fingertips ready for download or streaming for a nominal fee and it’s all completely legal.
As these services make themselves more readily available to the overseas internet-going public their popularity increases. A recent study by The Convergence Consulting Group titled The Battle for the North American (US/Canada) Couch Potato highlighted the growing consumption of these online video services in the US and Canada. The study found that since 2008 2.65 million Americans and Canadians have made the switch to subscription-based content providers like Hulu, Netflix and iTunes over traditional cable Television. Projections estimate that a further 930 thousand people will make the jump in 2012. It seems like a slow and natural transition at this stage rather than a harried and mass adoption, but at least it’s happening.
In Australia we’re not seeing online video distribution services (of the legal variety) enjoying even nearly as much market penetration. It’s difficult right now to say whether it’s the Australian public that’s to blame, or if our distribution companies are simply well behind the times. We’re not trying to say that it’s one or the other, the truth is rarely that simple.
What we are saying is that it’s a shame. In Australia if someone wants to legally check out the last season of Game of Thrones they’ll usually still resort to buying an actual physical copy on DVD or Blu-Ray. There are some online services but they’re few and far between and generally offer a paltry amount of content for a higher price when compared to Netflix or Hulu.
It’s also somewhat confusing that overseas distributors would be unwilling to attempt to penetrate foreign markets like Australia. Yes, there are local publishing laws to contend with, but the effort and expense would be miniscule when compared to shipping a physical product.
In our article regarding Game and its current unfortunate predicament we mentioned that where once Australia was a captive market that required time and effort to ship a product to the internet age is removing that boundary. Aussie computer game retailers are struggling because now Australian gamers have the option of buying a digitally downloadable title that is sometimes close to half the price of a physical copy in Australia due to the lack of need for shipping, the hiring of staff or payment of location rentals.
If the gaming industry is being so radically hit by downloadable content then why are the video distributors getting off so easy? It’s true that gamers are generally more familiar and comfortable with the internet and are therefore more likely to seek their content from the web. But there really is no reason that the average Australia consumer shouldn’t be willing to adopt a cheaper and easier alternative to buying a whole set of DVDs for a questionable price that they may only end up watching once.
We’re interested to see if any of our Aussie readers feel the same way as us or, even better, if you’ve adopted online video purchasing what service do you find works for you and why? We’d love to see some more vigorous adoption of online subscription services within our fair shores and we can’t wait for a future where it’s common place. No matter how far off that future may seem at present.