Netflix Seems Headed Australia, Company Won't

Content availability, piracy, and other priorities may be delaying the 'Down Under' debut

HONG KONG — It doesn’t quite have the pop culture ring of “I Want My MTV,” but plenty of Australians are clamouring for Netflix to launch ‘Down Under.’

There are growing signs that they will get their wish as a Netflix launch in Australia becomes a probablility, rather than a mere possibility. Some time in 2015 maybe. But, infuriatingly, the online video giant remains quiet on exactly when.

Last week the CEO of Australia’s Village Roadshow, Graham Burke revealed that his company is in talks to license rights to Netflix. “Netflix, they’re talking to our people about supply of products, so they are opening and coming to Australia,” he said in an interview with ZDnet.

In an interview with another tech website CNet, Burke added “it is pretty widely known that Netflix is opening operation in Australia next year.”

Recent speculation has suggested that Netflix could launch in Australia in the first or second quarter of 2015. But other reports have pointed to the company pushing that until late 2015 as it concentrates first on building up its operations in Europe.

Inside Film magazine reports that Netflix began content licensing discussions with Hollywood suppliers during May’s LA Screenings, and that two executives from the firm are due to visit Sydney next week.

Securing the content the company wants may be a tricky task. Australian rights to several high profile shows are held by other players. Even Netflix-backed “House of Cards” and “Orange Is The New Black” are held by pay-TV leader Foxtel. Foxtel is also understood to have the SVoD rights to “Mad Men,” and “Game of Thrones.”

The reports of Netflix’s Australia venture come at a time when the high rates of movie piracy in Australia, and movie release dates, have once again become major talking points.

Australian and Hollywood content owners in 2012 lost a series of court battles with Internet Service Provider iiNet, which they unsuccessfully argued encouraged piracy. The ISPs and iiNet have contended that the film industry has let itself down, and effectively encouraged piracy, by not making content legally available earlier and in an easier fashion.

A rash of independents and conglomerates have attempted to fill that perceived gap – and pushed Netflix to the back of the queue.

In March, Foxtel launched its own subscription service Presto offering access to its library and acquired content for A$19.99 per month, more than double Netflix’s $7.99 fee in the U.S. Others including EzyFlix and QuickFlix have also launched and Nine Entertainment is expected to debut its StreamCo service later this year.

However, Netflix may already have a certain taste of the Australian market.

According to some estimates, as many as 200,000 Australian households are already using Netflix’s U.S. service. They do so by using a virtual private network (VPN) or a browser fix that appears to locate them in North America and then paying the monthly fee.

Netflix has so far refused to be drawn on when it will launch in Australia. Its next quarterly results presentation on July 21 may be an opportunity to do so.

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