I woke up one morning and as I was having breakfast in the living room and swiping and left and right at my daily newsfeed on Flipboard on my iPhone at the same time, Netflix announced at this year’s CES that they have gone global. I was shocked. Netflix did announce that they are launching their services in Singapore sometime in 2016. But to launch so early at this time of the year and to launch at almost every other country around the globe is unprecedented.
Being the skeptical me, I immediately went to the Apple app store and downloaded the Netflix app. Sure enough, I could immediately sign up for the services using my iTunes account and before I know it, I could immediately browse through the various movie and TV titles on offer from within the app. Priced at $13.98 a month for local customers with a free month trial, I immediately signed up for it.
So after days of trying out since it launches in Singapore, what do I think of it?
There are basically 3 tiers of monthly payment options you can sign up for at Netflix. There is the Basic tier at $10.98 which gives you access to all their content, but only on SD quality and 1 stream per account, the Standard tier, at $13.98 (which I subscribed to) that allows you to stream content at full HD quality and up to 2 simultaneous streams per account. and of course the top of the line, Premium tier, that gives you access to 4K streams for those with 4K UHD TVs in your living room and up to 4 simultaneous streams per account. (Which technically you would be able to stream 4 simultaneous 4K streams at once. Whether or not your internet bandwidth can sustain that amount of data streaming to your home at any one time is another matter all together.)
Obviously I did not sign up for the Premium tier, because I do not have a 4K TV in the household, so its basically not very useful for me and having just 2 streams is just about right. I could watch in my room, while the rest of my family members can watch their own shows in the living room.
Personally, at that price point set for Singaporean customers, it’s pretty attractive. You get to watch all the content on Netflix all you want, when you want without any limitations. The only limitations however are the amount of content it actually have for the local Singapore market. Right now, there isn’t much. And that is true. My only rant for Netflix is that the movie and TV show offerings are quite limited. And I can understand why, as Netflix just launched in Singapore, things are bound to get rough and it will take time to settle all licensing and distribution rights issues for TV and movies. So I completely understand why their offerings are quite limited at this stage. My only hope is that they will continually improve over the long run, adding more and more content as they go along, maturing their services as time goes by. Netflix, even if their contents are limited, you can still watch quality Netflix Originals, which in my opinion are quite solid which I feel is quite plenty for a start. Sure, certain ’flagship’ titles are not available like House of Cards, but still, its a good all round offering of content for consumers. And they have promised more movies and TV shows in production for 2016 which we can look forward in the near future. And there is nothing wrong with cancelling your subscription for a month or two and coming back into to it to see whats new. And I think that is a distinct advantage over traditional cable tv subscriptions, which you are not only locked up with multi year contracts, but you have to choose what channels you want to watch, which different packages, and price points which makes cable TV content restrictive, inherently expensive, and bloated. But, compared to the amount of content available between cable TV and Netflix, that they have to offer to Singaporeans, cable TV is still king.
But there is another little known advantage for Netflix. If you are a techie like me, owning the latest iPhones, the latest gaming consoles, smart tv and the likes, you know that Netflix as a brand is ubiquitous. What do I mean by that? Netflix is everywhere. You can watch your favourite shows online using your pc. Just visit their official site and log in to your account. You can download the Netflix app on your phone and start watching immediately. If you own a PS4, you can download the Netflix app and watch on your PS4 that is plugged in to your TV. If you have Apple TV, Roku, or Google Chromecast, you can broadcast your content to your tv using the app downloaded in the micrcoconsole and voila. If you have a smart TV, you can download the app in your TV and immediately watch your favourite shows. For my set up, I use my PS4 to watch Netflix and its so simple.
Traditional cable tv set up are a whole different story. You need their own proprietary set top box to watch your shows. You are at the mercy of the respective channel’s tv schedule. You can only watch where the the set top box are connected. And that is basically it. Yes recently they have diversified their content offerings and offered more ways to watch your favourite shows, like web-based, on-demand TV shows, web-based catch-up TV, and Netflix-like subscription packages, allowing a buffet of content for a single price and the ability to watch on your computer, tablet or phone. But consider this; it is still quite restrictive in terms of where, what and when you can watch. It offers cord-cutting services, but services that has yet to rival Netflix. I still cannot ‘stream’ content on my Google Chromecast or to my PS4, because the apps and programs for those two are not developed for. Smart TVs are not truly localised to provide individual telco’s content offering using their own app and still rely on proprietary methods to access to their content. In other words, traditional cable tv has advanced by leaps and bounds in offering customers a diversified way to consuming content, but it cannot be compared to Netflix.
That is why I find Netflix has huge potential. Barring all content distribution restrictions and licensing issues, if Netflix were to offer the same amount of content from their USA counterpart, it is a powerful competitor to have arrived to Singapore’s shores. But alas, the world is not perfect. But I believe that Netflix will eventually get there. We can still enjoy Netflix USA. VPN is the answer. And VPN itself is a glimpse of what our local telcos will faced in the future. Netflix distribution models can completely upset the playing field in Singapore when it comes to TV and movie distribution strategies to individual consumers here.
So what have I watched on Netflix this past few days? I have watched a few episodes of Hemlock Grove, and binged on Jessica Jones. I have always wanted to watch Jessica Jones after the much acclaimed Daredevil series, also created by Netflix. Streaming shows on Netflix was painless. I did not experience any slowdowns, buffering, or visual quality degradations due to any connection problems whatsoever. Even when there were 2 simultaneous full HD streams happening at the same time, my fiber broadband connection showed no hiccups. My house is equipped with a 500mbps fiber connection speed and it was able to handle 2 streams, plus miscellaneous connections from smartphones, tablets and other PCs around the house. So any launch-day related problems were unfounded. Picture quality from full HD streams were stunning. And it was easy to forget that you were not watching from a blu-ray disc, rather that you were constantly streaming content to your TV.
Netflix also has some nifty mechanisms to feed your bingeing habits. Whether that is a good or bad thing is not for me to say. I like that fact that it continues showing the next episode with a countdown timer after the end credits started rolling. You don’t have to do anything. Netflix will automatically start playing the next episode in the series when the countdown ends. So you can simply watch continuously, without reaching for your remote, or phone or controller. Netflix also does a good job at keeping track of what you have watched and what is currently underway. You can pause and get right back into the action seamlessly, because Netflix keeps track of your progress all the time. Netflix also has a ‘My List’ section in which you can customise. Came across an interesting movie or TV show? Simply add it to “My List” and you will never lose track of what you intend to watch in the future. This is especially useful when Netflix catalog of movies and TV show expands dramatically over time.
Overall, Netflix is easy to navigate, stream and watch. And that is all there is to it. At the end of the day, Content and ease of use will rule the day. It is about time to let consumers decide how they want to watch, where they want to watch, and when they want to watch. Gone will be the days where your life’s schedule would have to fit according to the TV programming schedule. It is time for the other way around.