Can Australian streaming survive a fresh onslaught from overseas?



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Marc C-Scott, Victoria University

Australia’s already punch-drunk streaming sector is set for even more upheaval, as CBS will launch its streaming service in Australia as early as October.

Disney is also set to launch its streaming service in 2019. Based on recent history, Australia will likely be first up when it goes global.

The question is whether Australian streamers can compete locally with the global mammoths. Doing so might require coordination the likes of which we haven’t seen before.

This will impact not just what media Australians have access to, but more than 31,000 people employed by Australian media.




Read more:
Netflix arrival will be a tipping point for TV in Australia


We have already seen huge upheavals in Australian streaming.

Stan is the last remaining Australian streaming service from 2015, when I wrote about the official launch of Netflix in Australia. At that time there were two Australian-based subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) services, Presto and Stan.

Presto, a joint venture between Seven and Foxtel, was shut down in early 2017.

Foxtel then launched FoxtelNow in June 2017. It is already set for an overhaul later this year, to include 4K streaming, along with sports and entertainment streaming packages.

Aussie streaming services, more than just subscription

In addition to Stan, there are also transactional video-on-demand (TVoD) services in Australia, although these are discussed far less. A TVoD service is based upon a single payment being made to view singular content for a limited time, e.g. you have streaming access to the latest release for 48 hours.

One such Australian service is Quickflix, which launched in 2014. It went into receivership in 2016, before being saved and later relaunched.

Quickflix is still a streaming company, but retains the older disc mail-out service. This mail-out service could help Quickflix survive against global streaming services.

With the closure of video stores and retail stores removing discs from their shelves, a mail-out service still has value for Australians with poor internet speed and access.

The other Australian TVoD service is OzFlix, which some Australians may not be aware of.

Its differentiation is plans to source “Every Aussie Movie. Ever.”. A big task, but its specific niche may help it survive the onslaught of global media streaming services, while also giving local content a dedicated home.

Global media giants set their sights on Australia

Australia has been the first country that many media companies expand to when moving outside their own region. Netflix and YouTube Red (now YouTube Premium) are two examples.

More recently we have seen Amazon Prime Video launch in late 2016, although it is yet to have a major uptake locally.

The arrival of CBS All Access will impact Stan particularly. Stan features a number of CBS programs, so future programming will need to be from other distributors or through greater investment in original content.

Disney is also set to acquire 21st Century Fox. This will expand its catalogue on the new streaming service beyond its already huge catalogue. The Marvel movies look set to remain on current services, for now.

Australians and streaming…. what next?

A recent Roy Morgan report found over 9.8 million Australians had access to Netflix, with Stan at over 2 million. While Stan is clearly behind, it has had a 39.2% increase in the last 12 months.

YouTube premium has over 1 million subscribers, FetchTV 710,000 and Amazon Prime Video last at 273,000 (an 87% increase year on year).

The arrival of CBS All Access and Disney will make an already crowded market only more so. But is more choice a good thing?

A 2014 Nielsen report showed the average channels receivable by US households grew from 129 in 2008 to 189 in 2013. But the average channels tuned in remained at 17.

On top of larger content libraries, the global players also have deeper pockets. Disney looks set to spend US$100 million on a new Star Wars series for its streaming service. Netflix will spend more than US$8 billion on content in 2018 alone, and Amazon last year spent US$4 billion on content.




Read more:
With the rise of subscription and online TV, we need to rethink local content rules


Australian services will need to have a point of difference. Quickflix and OzFlix have their points of difference, but what about a larger service like Stan?

Stan can’t compete with the global companies on quantity of content, so it must, like others, have a point of difference.

Stan could become a premium platform for content of which some is broadcast on Nine later. That would be a similar approach to when Australian FTA broadcasters would buy US content months after it was broadcast in the US – to save on costs.

For an Australian service to compete, a better solution would be a combined approach, an all-Australian streaming service that combines the strengths and finances of the Australian media industry.

The Freeview app is an example of how Australian television has tried to work collaboratively but failed. The users can view all the catch-up content from Australian broadcasters, but to view it they are taken from the app to the specific broadcasters’ own catch-up apps.

This requires six apps in total to be installed to view all catch-up content.

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But is the Australian media industry willing to come together to fight against global streaming media companies, or will they continue to battle each other? Failure here could result in a further decline in Australian media.

Marc C-Scott, Lecturer in Screen Media, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Adele’s new album is not available to stream, but she may be swimming against the tide


Steven Caldwell Brown, University of Edinburgh

Adele has joined Taylor Swift’s ranks in the war against the streaming culture of Spotify and Apple Music. Her latest album, 25, will not be available on these services. A record shop in Tennessee is to open at midnight in anticipation – but I shouldn’t expect any queues.

The timing is auspicious: the Mercury Prize is about to be awarded, an annual prize which crowns the best album of the year released by a British or Irish artist or band. The continuance of such a prize and Adele’s stand against the emphasis on single tracks privileged by streaming calls into question the contemporary relevance of the album format as an artform.

Think about it. When was the last time you listened to an album? Really listened to an album? Perhaps with headphones, not when jogging, or commuting?

At least as far back as 2004, scholars have proposed that music listening is becoming more passive. Certainly, smartphones and streaming services have encouraged a more song-oriented way of music listening, with tech companies keen to develop the latest and greatest new music subscription service. It is also evident that YouTube is a particularly popular way of discovering and listening to music, which also suggests a disconnect from conventional ways of engaging in the album format. Notably, much of the music on YouTube is in breach of copyright.

Sign of the times?
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But a series of studies from Amanda Krause and colleagues directly challenge the notion that streaming means that music fans are becoming more passive. For instance, active use of shuffle and playlist functions was evident. The authors argued that the more control technology affords, the more complex the patterns of music listening. As reported by the Guardian, a quarter of all songs listened to on Spotify are skipped in the first five seconds. So people clearly know what they don’t want to listen to. But does this active interest in music extend to entire albums?

Tech by-product

Despite the appearance that digital music dominates the marketplace, the most recent report from The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry reveals that digital and physical revenues are matched. That is, people are still very much engaged in buying physical albums. But which albums are being bought is clearly changing: the top-selling album of the last year was the official soundtrack to Disney’s animated film Frozen.

And the album isn’t as embedded in musical culture as we might think. If we rewind a few generations, it was all about singles. The album format only came along later, exemplified with the concept records of the 1970s. This was not an artistic step forward but merely a result of technological advancements, affording musicians more room to create longer recordings.

So it’s intriguing that with digital music no longer imposing any time-related barriers, new releases still tend to last roughly around as long as they did when music was primarily consumed on CD. Despite an increasing lack of public interest in albums, the industry hasn’t changed its colours. Things do look as though they might be shifting, but this is happening slowly: recent releases from the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The Smashing Pumpkins (both known for long albums) suggest that musicians themselves are finally buying into the notion that their fans no longer wish to commit to an hour (or more) of auditory indulgence.

But other artists including Radiohead have gone on to release albums after experimenting with the extended player format despite publicly expressing concern over the contemporary relevance of the album. And the Pixies confused fans by bundling songs from three EP’s into their comeback album Indie Cindy. The strategy was seen to be a “craven cash-in”.

Out of date?

So perhaps the album is a lost and meaningless relic of the past. Stephen Witt goes so far as to argue that it is the album format that is killing the music industry – not music piracy. Reflecting on hip-hop in particular, he argues that albums with filler actually encourage piracy. Why pay for a whole album when you only like a few songs?

Legal services such as Spotify now cater for curious music fans, and Witt explains that though consumers are now less likely to pirate music, they are also less likely to buy albums. Recent research highlights that Spotify in fact decreases both legal and illegal downloads. And, the hoo-hah surrounding Adele’s new album suggests that some people have forgotten that music lives in other corners of the internet than just Spotify.

Nevertheless the question marks hanging over the album format are wide-reaching. It has even been proposed that it might be more profitable to release songs than albums.

But although the album format appears to be in crisis, it has appeared this way for over a decade. With the increasing popularity of playlists, it may be that people are strapping in for a different type of long haul, or that the criteria of a “good album” now varies.

If there has been any major shift it has been the emphasis on live concerts rather than recorded music, with established musicians happy to give their albums away for free – this is an effective way of promoting live concert attendance, where most musicians now make most of their earnings.

In any case, it is likely that musicians will continue to create albums and consumers will continue to listen to them simply because that is what was established many years ago. They will also continue to be celebrated with industry awards. And though the artists shortlisted in the Mercury Music Prize are likely to receive a boost in popularity, it will be Adele’s new album which will dominate, particularly considering her dismissal of streaming culture.

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Steven Caldwell Brown, Teaching Fellow in Social Psychology, University of Edinburgh

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.