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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.

Netflix remains tight-lipped about its Australian plans, but that hasn’t stopped local players preparing to battle the 800 pound gorilla of internet video.

For $US7.99 per month, Netflix is seen as the Holy Grail of online video by many Australians. The service is a stark reminder of how raw a deal we get compared to US viewers. Of course it’s not that hard for Australians to trick Netflix into thinking we’re in the US. It’s simple to bypass geo-blocking and easy to convince Netflix to take your money. So easy that you have to wonder if Netflix’s plan for Australia is to simply look the other way as we sneak in the back door.

In some ways it makes no sense for Netflix to come to Australia, because it will never be able to match the price and range that it offers in the US. It will be hampered by the same rights deals such as Foxtel’s deals with HBO that hamper other Australian services. Netflix certainly has the clout to strike good deals, but anyone who expects an Australian Netflix to mirror the US Netflix is setting themselves up for disappointment.

Netflix remains tight-lipped about its Australian plans, but that hasn’t stopped local players preparing to battle the 800-pound gorilla of internet video. Foxtel’s Presto isn’t far from launch although at $25 per month it seems expensive even if it does offer access to the Foxtel Movies library. Freeview has been talking about a Hulu-style cross-network catch-up TV service for many years, but nothing has come of it. Instead the networks have floated a few ideas.

Now Nine is pressing ahead with its Netflix-style service next year, with plans to commission its own content but not to offer new-release blockbuster movies until they’ve been out for about a year. That’s not really a deal-breaker when you consider thatalmost every movie on Netflix is at least 10 years old. Don’t expect to find the online equivalent of your local video store on Netflix, instead its real strength is its wide range of TV shows. Even if Australian networks can put together a decent Netflix rival, they’ll struggle to win people away from Netflix until they acknowledge that it was their bastardry which drove us to Netflix in the first place. Hopefully Seven and Nine’s online services will have more respect for viewers then their free-to-air services.

Behind the scenes Foxtel and the Australian free-to-air broadcasters are still discussing various partnerships, working on the principle of safety in numbers when fighting a giant like Netflix. Then again, they say it is better to be the right hand of the devil than in his path so you can be sure that the big Australian players are also weighing up the option of partnering with Netflix, if Netflix was open to such a deal. Netflix is so well-known in Australia that it doesn’t really need to ride anyone else’s coat tails. After Seven dropped the ball on TiVo, I can’t see Netflix rushing to get into bed with them. All the major smart TV vendors and games console makers already offer Netflix apps in the US, so it wouldn’t be hard to bring Netflix straight to Australian home entertainment gear.

The scaling back of the NBN might have given Netflix reason to think twice about Australia, but if it does open up shop here then the likes of Hulu and Amazon may not be far behind. Amazon recently opened an Australian eBook store and Hulu has been spotted applying for Australian trademarks.

The thought of Netflix coming to Australia is unlikely to appeal to Australians who currently bluff their way into the US service, because you can be sure Netflix will close a few of those loopholes if it officially launches here. There’s more than one way to skin that cat and determined Australians will still be able to find a way, but Netflix won’t make life easy. Considering that an Australian Netflix will charge more and offer less, I’m sure some people would be happy to stick with the status quo and keep handing their money over to the US service.

Are you keen to see Netflix in Australia? How much would you pay and what would you expect in return?


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