Netflix’s arrival in Singapore and select countries in Asia was officially announced in early September, but little has been heard since.
The online video streaming service that has been the bane of expensive cable TV providers everywhere and pirates in certain territories, is expected in Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong in early 2016.
Little is known even now, but after meeting with Netflix corporate communications lead Jonathan Friedland, we were able to have a few pressing questions answered ahead of the opening of the regional office the company aims to place in Singapore.
Content will be scarce at first
Those expecting the US catalogue straight out of the gate will probably be sorely disappointed. The realities of international TV content licensing make it impossible, but that’s not the only reason, Jonathan says. “Our first big international market was in Latin America, where we licensed a bunch of stuff that nobody ever watched,” he explains. So in every country it launches now, the company iterates on the content according to the audience’s wishes.
“In the US we’ve been streaming since 2007 and we have 42 million subscribers, so we can afford a lot of content,” Jonathan says. “When we start in a new market, it’s a smaller content base and it grows over time.” He cites France and Germany as examples, where the service launched last year and the size of the catalogue has doubled since then.
This creates the unfortunate situation of not providing enough incentive to users who access the service through a VPN to switch to the local version. But because of content licensing issues, little can be done about it.
… but Netflix original programming will be immediately available
The good news is, all of Netflix’s original shows and movies will be available globally the moment they are released. The company took care to have that content locked down worldwide, in stark contrast to the Hollywood practice of marketing globally and releasing in stages.
Upcoming shows and movies include second Marvel joint Jessica Jones, Aziz Ansari vehicle Master of None, and Bill Murray Christmas special A Very Murray Christmas, as well as several children’s shows.
In addition, Netflix has managed to get global rights for certain shows it does not produce, like Jane the Virgin, Blacklist, Gotham, How to Get Away with Murder, and Breaking Bad, which will also be available at launch here. All the content will stream in HD and 4K. HDR (High Dynamic Range), the new flavor-of-the-year in TVs, will be supported in certain cases (such as season two of Marco Polo, but it remains to be seen if the technology will catch on.
More Asian content
“[In Asia] we’ll probably have a bigger selection of K-drama or Cantonese TV than in the US,” Jonathan says. “Each market is different and what we’ve learned is that we know a lot more about each market the day after we’ve arrived. You learn what people want and you adapt.”
You won’t be seeing original programming coming from this region just yet, though. The company has “nothing to announce” on working with local filmmakers and producers for original content in Southeast Asia, although there’s no reason why this couldn’t change if the service proves popular and there is demand for it.
Language-wise, the service will support Chinese, both traditional and simplified, out of the gate, as well as English. Other languages will continue to be added over time.
Pricing will be similar to the US
Netflix has not yet revealed any prices for the service, although it will follow the same pricing structure.
Currently, subscriptions are split into three tiers: streaming to just one screen at a time in standard definition costs US$7.99, two screens at a time in HD costs US$8.99, and four screens at a time in HD and 4K costs US$11.99. Jonathan says the prices in the new territories will be around the equivalent of the US prices.
Sadly, this will probably include the dreaded upcoming price increases in the service, first discussed back in July.
Content will not be censored (maybe)
Singapore tends to have some pretty strict broadcasting standards, censoring content such as nudity, references to homosexuality, and extreme language. It’s not unheard of for the occasional swear word to, well, go unheard of, even during late-night TV. In a uniquely US-style approach, these rules don’t seem to be as strict when it comes to violence, but I digress.
It’s not yet clear what will apply to Netflix’s programming, parts of which have been a little more risqué. “As I understand it, there are somewhat different standards between streaming view-on-demand and television,” Jonathan muses. The company has held meetings with Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA), the ultimate arbiter of broadcasting standards, to determine this, among other things.
Even setting aside things like artistic integrity, Netflix might have good reason to stick to its guns on this one – if it hopes to get subscribers on board, it has to convince them it can offer a better experience than either using a VPN to access the US version, or turning to piracy.
Competition in the region is welcome
Before it was confirmed that Netflix would come to these parts, incumbent services had already launched in other countries in Southeast Asia. Malaysia’s iFlix is currently available in Malaysia and the Philippines, while Singaporean telco Singtel-owned Hooq is streaming in Thailand and India. None of these countries are immediate Netflix destinations, but a lot of them will be by the end of 2016, the company says – at which point, it will have to fight them for air time (pipe time?) and content licenses.
“Everywhere we’ve gone, there have been either incumbents who are trying to protect their turf or new people coming in who would like to try a subscription-based streaming business,” Jonathan says. “It’s great because it provides consumers with more options and we wish them well.”
Streaming video is not a zero-sum game, he explains, so it’s not necessary for just one service to rule them all. As TV moves from the traditional, linear format to the web and apps, some sort of consolidation into bundles might not be the craziest thing – think of a possible bundle deal giving you access to Netflix, Hooq, and HBO for example.
Are you eagerly awaiting Netflix’s launch in these parts? Or are you all VPN’d out? Or have you been hoisting the black flag this whole time? Let us know in the comments!
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