Per capita Australians are buying and renting more film and TV content online than any other country except the US, according to a new study.

The fast growing digital market is split almost evenly between purchases (electronic sell -through) and rental (Video-on-Demand), unlike most other territories where VoD dominates.

Digital film and TV consumer revenues reached $143.6 million, excluding GST, in 2013, according to the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association (AHEDA), which covers more than 90% of the market. That’s a 22.4% gain on 2012, which was up 36% on the prior year when those stats were first compiled.

Nine and Foxtel’s Netflix rivals are lining up to take on the US streaming giant if it officially comes to Australia next year.

Australians have always been treated as second-class citizens when it comes to online video. Local services such as Quickflix, EzyFlix, Bigpond Movies and Apple’s iTunes charge more than their US counterparts but offer less. It’s tempting to accuse them of price gouging but most of the blame lies with Hollywood, which screws Australians simply because it can get away with it.

Google’s YouTube video service is dipping its toe into pay television by starting a subscription service with 30 content creators, including children’s programmers Sesame Street and Muppet creator The Jim Henson Co, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

YouTube, the world’s largest video website, allows creators to set subscription fees and accept advertisements, at their discretion, for the channels they create.

For $US4.99 a month, subscribers can get golf lessons from the PGA Golf Academy. The Laugh Factory charges $US2.99 for clips of stand-up comedy routines and Henson charges $US2.99 for full length episodes of Sid the Science Kid and Fraggle Rock.

YouTube has spoken repeatedly about its intent to experiment with paid channels, and has made no secret about its intent to be a major player in quality content.

"If feels to me as if history is repeating itself," said Tony Vinciquerra, former chairman of News Corp’s Fox Networks Group. "In the early ’80s cable providers subsidised channels to enhance offerings to consumers and increase penetration. Fast forward to today, and YouTube is subsidising the development of new content offerings."

YouTube will feature content from traditional TV and film producers, company executives said, and at the launch featured children’s videos from National Geographic and videos from cable channel HDNet.

That could eventually be a threat to cable and TV operators, but no time soon, said Richard Greenfield, a media analyst with BTIG.

"I think everyone who creates video programming should be worried about the growth of new content channels," he said. "Broadcast TV has been hurt by cable. Broadcast is still a very large business despite fragmentation."

Content creators will get most of their revenue from subscriptions, as they already do from advertising on the site, according to company officials.

In March, YouTube said on its blog that it has more than 1 billion unique users a month. The new subscription service will be available in 10 countries at launch.

YouTube has spent more than $US100 million to help about 150 media partners create and promote specialised YouTube video channels dedicated to topics ranging from food to sports.

"Consumers have gotten used to getting their content on the web," said Laura Martin, senior analyst with Needham and Co. "The question is whether they will pay for it."


While politicians argue over the cost and the mix of technologies used to deliver a national broadband network, one aspect of the infrastructure-building project has become clear since the opposition released its NBN alternative plan: both sides of politics now agree to build it.

It seems more businesses are also in favour than against it, with a survey of 504 businesses by the Australian Institute of Company Directors finding 49 per cent agreed the NBN was “a positive thing for Australia”, compared with 37 per cent who disagreed.

Forget the NBN – movies streamed almost instantly over the net are here already and a swarm of new entrants are putting a strain on traditional players like DVD stores.

A report released this week by Credit Suisse found that while not yet mainstream in Australia, “IPTV is here” and would continue to drive the take-up of internet video over the next few years.

The newest player in the IPTV market is Quickflix, which has long offered mail order DVD rentals but recently began unlimited online streaming services via PCs, Macs, internet-enabled TVs and the PlayStation 3.

What makes a TV truly smart? Currently, a “smart” TV means an Internet-enabled TV which can deliver OTT as well as traditional broadcast media. Basically, this encompasses on-demand streaming (e.g. Netflix) and a few other applications.  However, this approach prevents TV’s from reaching their potential – true intelligence requires more.

One of the biggest problems facing today’s Smart TV model is its very limited application space. Most TVs are tied to a specific, closed set of applications (the proverbial “walled garden”) and there is no common platform that enables developers to easily bring applications across multiple TV brands. The result is that, outside of a handful of common applications, there is a small hodgepodge of different applications for different TV brands. This limits the ability of developers to reach users and forces the customer to learn a new TV-based application interface for each new smart TV they use.

People talk about creating one common Smart TV platform (Yahoo widgets, Google TV, and now MeeGO), but this is a difficult job, and none of these efforts has met with much success. But this problem has been solved for PCs, now even tablets and mobile phones. These platforms have huge numbers of apps, games, etc. that consumers recognize and enjoy. There are common platforms for developers and common user interfaces that consumers understand.  

So what makes a truly smart TV? First, be a TV! TV’s should let consumers easily leverage all of the other applications and content currently available on their laptops, tablets and mobile phones. Sure, support some easy applications internally in the TV if that is what consumers want (e.g. video streaming), but do not force the customer to put down their laptop, tablet or smartphone just to bring content or applications to the TV screen.

A truly smart TV allows a user to access any program or content in any manner, on the device of his or her choice. If the user prefers to access social media link on a mobile device, a truly smart TV should enable him to do so. In other words, a truly smart TV is a TV that enables smart connectivity. This is where the WHDI standard (Wireless Home Digital Interface) can help.

The content that people want is already in their hands, in systems they know well. Why take away this familiarity? If the app they want to use is on their phone, let them use their phone! If the app is also on the TV and the user wants to use it, great, but if not, WHDI will bring it from any device, in real time, to the TV.

With WHDI, it is possible to mirror devices that people are using to give them a better experience rather than ignoring those devices. Giving TVs Internet connectivity via Wi-Fi or otherwise is a great achievement, but for true intelligence, TV makers need to realize that personal entertainment does not exist exclusively within their boxes and they have to engage the user on his or her own terms.


09 May 2011

Optus today announced that it is partnering with FetchTV to jointly develop an IPTV service with integrated mobile functionality for smartphones and tablet devices.

The service is scheduled for launch in the second half of 2011 and is part of Optus’ broader TV strategy to develop a suite of converged video services, delivering choice and control for customers whether they’re at home or on the move.

Austin R. Bryan, Director, Optus Digital Media said, “The way people view and engage with video content is changing rapidly. Optus wants to be at the forefront of this change which is why we’re partnering with FetchTV to develop a unique TV offering across multiple devices.

“With its strong content line-up and innovative delivery platform, we believe FetchTV is the best partner to help us develop a service which will provide customers with a fantastic user experience,” Mr Bryan said.

Scott Lorson, CEO, FetchTV said, “FetchTV has spent the past three years developing advanced IPTV capabilities and a compelling catalogue of content. Partnering with an operator of Optus’ scale, brand and reputation is a significant milestone for FetchTV and we look forward to working with Optus to launch a unique and compelling entertainment service.”

Pricing and specific details of the Optus service will be available closer to launch.