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Casting a net over the whole world
BEFORE heading to the multiplex this weekend, you might want to turn your television on first, now that Netflix has made its way to Singapore.
The company may have started out as a mail-order DVD service, but unlike the other players (Blockbuster, Columbia House) in its field, it has managed to stay relevant and even evolved over the years.
As well as streaming popular movies and TV shows straight to your home, it also produces highly-acclaimed original content such as prison dramedy Orange Is The New Black and Narcos, which details the escapades of notorious druglord Pablo Escobar. Netflix's 70 million subscribers are testament to its successful business model.
Launched simultaneously in more than 130 new countries, including Singapore, on Wednesday, basic streaming to one device in standard-definition will cost S$10.98 per month, and the premium subscription with high-definition will cost S$16.98 monthly. All the plans offer the first month of streaming for free.
The announcement was made at a keynote by Netflix co-founder and chief executive Reed Hastings at the CES 2016 technology convention, held in Las Vegas from Jan 6 to 9.
He said: "The Netflix service has gone live in nearly every country of the world but China. Today, right now, you are witnessing the birth of a new global internet TV network."
Added Ted Sarandos, its chief content officer: "With the Internet, global distribution no longer needs to be fragmented. It means that everyone pretty much everywhere should be able to see great films or TV shows at the exact same moment. The technology is there. It's business models that now stand in the way."
This seems to suggest Netflix is changing its business model to suit the current tastes of consumers who want it all, now.
When asked if it had any plans to convert current users of the US store via Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in Singapore, a spokesperson from Netflix said: "The goal is to offer a fully global service with a global catalogue so no one has to wait for the hottest new show or movie. As we work towards this global service, the use of VPNs will become redundant."
Whether or not some content will be limited by Singapore's censorship laws remains unclear. The spokesperson explained: "We remain sensitive to preferences of members where we operate, and will continue to make market-specific decisions."
What's on offer
Netflix's full US catalogue of movies and TV shows will not be accessible in Singapore at launch time, though it looks to offer a "robust mix" of titles from drama and action to comedy and documentaries to TV shows and movies for kids.
The spokesperson added: "The library for each market will be different and there will be a selection of local content available at launch in some countries."
Netflix stresses that its modus operandi is to start small and with a curated catalogue in every new market; in most markets, the size of the catalogue will double in the first year.
"We still have territorial licensing, that's a legacy from the last seven or eight years. We're moving as quickly as we can to have global availability of all the content on Netflix so that there are no regional distinctions," Mr Hastings said at CES.
The streaming service comes to Singapore and the region amid much fanfare, even from rival streaming services. Patrick Grove, chairman of Malaysia-based platform iflix said that from an industry perspective, it's "great news" and "reaffirms that the shift in entertainment consumption to on-demand is a global phenomenon".
iflix, which targets emerging markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, says its main advantage continues to be a "deep understanding of its markets", as well as technology and features that address infrastructural inconsistencies native to each market. Mr Grove said: "iflix is a mass market, mobile-optimised offering at a price that everyone can afford."
Singtel, which runs Internet steaming service HOOQ, also wholeheartedly welcomes the entrance of an established player like Netflix to quicken the pace of the evolution of OTT, or over-the-top, a category that is "still nascent".
OTT is the delivery of movies and TV shows via the Internet, without requiring users to subscribe to a traditional cable or satellite pay-TV service.
Peter Bithos, chief executive officer of HOOQ, said: "Our mission has always been to drive the entertainment revolution exclusively for the emerging market customer. We are happy that a large player like Netflix is now seeing the same opportunity we have seen."
A one-size-fits-all approach, however, will not meet the needs of everyone in emerging markets, Mr Bithos noted. "To address the emerging market customer, pricing, content and many other factors must be tailored market by market."
In countries such as India, the Philippines and Thailand for instance, entertainment must benchmark to the price of a movie ticket and below typical pay-TV alternatives. "With HOOQ, customers can get access to over 35,000 hours of movies and TV series from Hollywood blockbusters to the latest local hit TV shows all for less than US$4 per month," he said.
Content is king
HOOQ remains focused on the best of Hollywood and, more importantly local content which Mr Bithos said "is equal, if not more important to consumers than just Hollywood".
But Netflix's biggest edge over its peers is probably the exclusive original productions it churns out like a studio, including movies, most of which are licensed on a global basis. Its spokesperson said: "We'll have more than 30 new and returning Netflix series, and in addition, we'll be launching more than 10 films exclusively on Netflix in 2016."
The first of these movies was Beasts of No Nation starring Idris Elba, released on Oct 16, which was watched three million times in North America alone. The second was The Ridiculous 6, an Adam Sandler vehicle, released on Dec 11. Mr Sarandos, the content officer, described it as "the most viewed movie ever on Netflix for the first 30 days after its release".
Yet to come in 2016 are the sequels to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Pee Wee Herman.
And the next original TV show to watch, at least if social media is anything to go by, is true-crime thriller Making a Murderer. That alone might help Netflix make a killing at the home box office.
To sign up for Netflix, go to www.netflix.com/sg/.