Netflix Australia 2017 in review: How did the streaming giant perform last year?
With mounting pressure from rival services and a price hike, is Netflix still worth it in 2018?
Netflix has had a rollercoaster few years Down Under. When it first launched back in March 2015, the main criticism of Foxtel's biggest threat was of its skeletal streaming library. Netflix's Australian TV show and movie library count (1,326 titles at launch) came in much lower than the US library (8,499 in the US at the time of the Australian launch). It also didn't offer some of the primo content US subscribers had access to, omitting some key TV shows like Halt and Catch Fire, The Walking Dead and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. However, that was 2015, and while Netflix Australia still has none of the shows listed above, rarely a day goes by that it hasn't announced some kind of fantasy-fulfilling TV or movie. From sure-fire pop-culture candy like the Castlevania TV series or the long-awaited return of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 to the derided Death Note or the decidely dull Defenders. While the quality varies, there's no doubt Netflix knows how to please its audience.
Just like Mel Gibson circa 2000, Netflix has a supernatural knack for knowing what its subscribers want (or access to scarily detailed viewer metrics and behaviours, one of the two). This is why even the biggest critical stinkers like Bright can be greenlit for a sequel because most subscribers will lap up whatever Netflix serves (and Netflix loves serving up its own originals).
So can Netflix rightly be crowned the content king of 2017? And what of the price of admission? How does that stack up against its Australian competitors? We've analysed Netflix's performance over the year to see how it stacks up against its competitors.
Netflix subscriptions (and most other streaming services) have always sold at a pretty generous price in my opinion. Compared to the days of Foxtel's exploitative subscription model, Netflix and its streaming companions are offering some stellar services at around $10 per month for their cheapest plans.
With that said, these services aren't immune to scrutiny, and the Netflix price hike in 2017 was, without doubt, one of the most widely derided. When the now infamous Netflix Tax came into effect, the big red streaming service made the decision to pass that cost onto subscribers. This raised the price from $8.99 to $9.99 for the basic plan (1 device, standard definition), $11.99 to $13.99 for the standard plan (2 devices, high definition) and $14.99 to $17.99 for a premium subscription (4 devices, UHD/4K).
|Netflix Australia pricing||Basic||Standard||Premium|
|Old monthly price||$8.99||$11.99||$14.99|
|New monthly price||$9.99||$13.99||$17.99|
|Stream quality||SD||SD/HD||SD/HD/Ultra HD|
|Maximum simultaneous streams||1||2||4|
Not the end of the world right? One dollar extra at the lowest tier, three dollars extra at the highest. Well, that's not how Australia saw it. The fact that Netflix lumped in a little extra price increase of their own with the 10% GST charge (the Premium plan came in at 20% more expensive) didn't sit well with Australians, nor did the fact that they were now paying on-par with US subscribers, who have access to a significantly more expansive library.
I'm happy to hear out anyone's arguments and I ain't no Netflix shill man but I've personally consumed a lot of Netflix Originals over 2017. That's not to say Netflix Originals were the créme da le créme of 2017 television, but I sunk enough hours with Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later, Stranger Things Season 3, Black Mirror and much more to justify an extra $12 or $36 for the year.
To compare, Stan's new tiers come in at $10 per month for basic, $12 per month for standard and $15 per month for premium. Foxtel Now will set you back $10 per month at its entry-level but jumps up by $10 - $29 per pack if you want anything worth watching. Amazon Prime Video is still sitting at US$5.99 per month (AUD$7.60 at the time of writing) because that's about all they can justify with the content library in its current state.
So while Netflix's highest tiers aren't as cheap as Stan's, it does still offer a considerably better service (whereas Foxtel's packages are still a confusing mess and Amazon Prime Video has little to show for the price of admission).
Look, I'm not going to defend Netflix to my grave, but you have to admit it's made some pretty compelling television shows and movies in 2017 (and a fair few flops too). My personal highlights include the animated Castlevania series, a left-of-field idea that paid off in my opinion (even if it was a little too short); the surprisingly solid The Get Down (I'm not normally a musical fan) which was cancelled well before its time; the long-awaited and successful revival of Mystery Science Theatre 3000; the timely and electrifying adaptation of Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It; and one of the best second seasons ever created with Master of None (which is my personal favourite).
The cherry on top was the release of Black Mirror Season 4, which featured some of the best (and maybe one of the worst) episodes the series has ever seen. And that's just what I had a chance to watch – by all accounts, Fincher's Mindhunter is well worth a binge, and I'm told I really should have stuck GLOW out. I'm nearly out of breath here, but I couldn't talk about content without name dropping three Netflix Original movies that I absolutely adored over 2017: Okja, The Incredible Jessica James and I Don't Feel at Home in this World Anymore. These weren't just quality Netflix titles – I'd put them way up there as some of my favourite movies of 2017. Period.
But that's just my opinion, and I could waffle on for 5,000 more words gushing about my favourite television shows and movies of 2017. We've actually done the research and it looks like Netflix's content library has improved significantly since launch.
Content total comparison
The graphs below show the content library totals for each major streaming service in Australia as of January 2018. As we can see from the graph, Netflix Australia trumps Stan and Amazon Prime Video for both TV and movies. Overall, Netflix has 71% more content than Stan and 267% more content than Amazon Prime Video. At the time of writing, Foxtel Now has the highest number of TV shows and movies out of every service, but the turnover of Foxtel Now's titles is far more frequent than any other service.
Netflix Australia content growth
Since its launch in 2015, Netflix's own content library has seen significant growth. Its TV show total has increased by 309% and its movie total has increased by 66%. In total, Netflix Australia's library (TV shows and movies) has grown by 114%.
Netflix Australia 2017 content quality
Netflix released a truck-load of original content this year. We collected data from IMDB and Metacritic for every title released in 2018 and, as shown in the graph below, Netflix's TV shows fared much better than its movies in the eyes of critics. Netflix TV shows scored an average of 7.3 from IMDB and 70.4 from Metacritic, whereas Netflix movies scored an average of 6.4 from IMDB and 62.1 from Metacritic. It's important to note that Metacritic provides ratings for far fewer TV shows and movies compared to IMDB, so its averages are less reliable.
Of course, remember to take these ratings with a grain of salt. IMDB's ratings are user-generated and anyone in the world can cast a vote. In that sense, IMDB is more of a popularity vote, rather than a review score aggregation.
Netflix also scores points for greenlighting its first original Australian production Tidelands, giving Patrick Brammal and Emma Booth's Glitch a second season, working with ABC to co-produce the upcoming Australian TV series The Letdown and the cutest coupling ever, working with the South Australian government to produce a mysterious political thriller known as Pine Gap.
In addition to these three TV shows, Netflix is giving existing TV shows like Please Like Me, Black Comedy and, of course, Round the Twist international exposure.
With that said, one unreleased local production doesn't hold a candle to the quality originals streaming rival Stan has been pumping out. Wolf Creek Season 2, The Other Guy and Romper Stomper were all quality binges last year and Stan's No Activity was funny enough to attract the attention of Will Ferrell and Adam Mckay, who produced a US adaptation of the show in 2017.
Every second day, there's an announcement about a new Netflix feature on a particular device. To list them all out here would be overkill (and wouldn't make for the most compelling read), so we're going to stick with some of the biggest improvements from the year.
Winning the war on buffering
At last year's MWC, Netflix announced it had been developing a new compression technology known as the Dynamic Optimiser. This AI-powered algorithm analyses each frame of a video and decides when it needs to bump the bitrate up, compressing only select images for a higher-quality stream on slower connections.
Put simply, the Dynamic Optimiser would increase the bitrate in a visually complex scene like the fast-paced fisticuffs in Daredevil and pump the brakes on scenes with a simpler palette such as in an animated TV show like Big Mouth. So what does this mean for the average Netflix user? Not a whole lot if you're on a super-fast and stable internet connection (if you're not, consider comparing providers). However, if you're in an area with an outdated broadband connection or anything less than 4G/LTE, the Dynamic Optimiser will kick in and allow for a smoother stream. This is great news for rural Australians relying on mobile reception and countries like India, Japan and South Korea where Netflix is streamed more frequently on smartphones and tablets than on televisions.
Ratings change gets the thumbs up
Back in April, Netflix moved from its much-maligned star rating system to a simple thumbs up/thumbs down rating. The change was widely praised by users thanks to its simplicity. If you like a title, give it a thumbs up and Netflix will recommend more content like it. Not your cup of tea? Go all Ancient Rome on that piece of trash and give it the thumbs down. You'll see less content like it show up in your feed. It makes sense: when you're trying to refine your feed, you don't really want to waste time giving a show a full five-star critical assessment.
Choose your own adventure
This year, Netflix launched its first interactive TV show, Puss in Book. In a first for streaming, this Shrek spin-off gives kids control of the adventure. Puss in Books features a branching narrative with 13 plotline variants. This was followed closely by a second interactive adventure Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile. By all reports, kids are loving the modern-day equivalent of Goosebumps' Reader Beware: You Choose the Scare and Netflix plans to expand upon the idea with the upcoming Stretch Armstrong TV show.
While interactive programs are limited to game consoles, smart TVs, iOS and streaming media players, interactive storytelling is still a testament to Netflix's commitment to reshaping the way we engage with television.
Was 2017 a good year for Netflix? Yes. While the year started out with a slowed subscriber growth and drop in Netflix stock prices, the company rounded out 2017 by smashing its subscriber expectations out of the park with 5.3 million new subscribers (850,000 in the US and 4.45 million internationally).
However, it was an even better year for Australian subscribers. With over double the content it had at launch, 71% more content than Stan and a whopping 267% more content than Amazon Prime Video, Netflix is the undisputed champion if you like TV shows and movies and lots of them. Netflix also more than tripled the amount of TV shows it produced with 382 in total, up from 110 the year before. And it nearly doubled the amount of original movies it produced, with 32 in 2016 and 63 in 2017. Best of all, it maintained a fairly consistent quality, too.
With that said, Aussie streaming service Stan is doing more justice for local filmmakers with its current swathe of original content. We still haven't heard squat about Netflix's Tidelands since its first vague announcement back in May.
Pricing may have been the only blip on Netflix's record. While the price hike wasn't dramatic and still closely mirrors Stan's subscription fees, it was a little dastardly of Netflix to tack on an extra 20% on its Premium plan under the guise of the new GST on digital services. If Netflix wanted to up Australian prices, it should have been more upfront about it. It did, after all, push Australia down 161 places on the Netflix affordability scale.
At least we're paying a fraction extra to possibly the hardest working streaming provider in the business, one that offers a massively expanded library and innovative technology improvements that aim to service those without the luxury of 100/40Mbps broadband speeds.
It seems you already know all this, though. Recent YouGov research suggests Netflix is the top advocated brand in Australia. With all the pros in favour of the streaming giant, is it any wonder why?