Netflix reveals NZ launch date, features

PLUS: Partnership with Vodafone.

UPDATE March 3: Netflix has revealed its New Zealand launch date: March 24.

As in other countries, the video streaming service will offer a single-stream standard definition plan, two-stream high-definition plan and four-stream 4K ultra-high definition “family” plan. 

Pricing and its final content lineup is still in the works but Netflix says it will partner with Vodafone (which is in turn already bundling Sky TV's Neon free for six months with new unlimited data plans).

Vodafone will give customers Netflix service free for six months when they sign up for 24 months to one of its Red+ mobile plans, which are priced from $99 a month (current customers can also "re-sign" for a fresh 24-month term to qualify).

And people who buy Microsoft's XBox One game console "at select stores" will receive three months prepaid access to Netflix service.

Some Aussies will get unmetered data with Netflix' Australasian launch; for New Zealanders, data used watching Netflix (and that means up to 2GB an hour if you're viewing high def) will count toward your monthly cap.

Read also: Today's SVOD market a 'joint suicide pact' – Sky TV boss | ASK ME ANYTHING: TVNZ CEO Kevin Kenrick

Netflix reveals more details of NZ service
Feb 19:
Visiting Netflix execs have revealed some more details of the streaming video company's local launch, set for March.

I'm used to streaming video services having one or more quality or platform restrictions, so it blew my mind a little when chief product officer Neil Hunt offered "yes" to all my questions:

Is Netflix NZ going to have an Apple TV app? Yes.

Will it be on smart TVs? Yes. If you've bought any major brand of smart TV over the past couple of years, a Netflix app should light up in March.

PlayStation? Yes.

Xbox? Yes.

Google Chromecast? Yes

iOs? Yes.

Android? Yes.

HD streaming? Yes

Ultra HD 4K steaming? Yes (with a 15Mbit/s or faster internet connection required; that means VDSL or fibre).

Pricing hasn't been announced, but Hunt says it will be comparable with other countries.

Hassle the geoblock busters?
Actually, there was one question I was hoping Hunt would answer with a "no": Will Netflix move to block VPN software (often used to access Netflix US and UK, with their motherlode of content, from NZ)? There's nothing we can do stop VPNs, the CPO said no: "There's not a lot we can do to stop some accessing the US. We don't intend to do anything differently. There's not much we can do."

When I mention that jut this afternoon Slingshot has complemented its geoblock-busting Global Mode with a new "geo-switcher" — essentially, a one-click way to hop between Netflix US, Netflix UK and the pending Netflix NZ (more here) — Hunt is intrigued and positive; he thinks it could be a world first (and of course while Sky TV might grizzle*, at the end of the day it's no skin off Netflix' nose where you pay your $US7.99 a month for its all-you-can-eat service. And it won't be complaining if you subscribe in more than one territory).

What you should see — if you're one of the small army of New Zealanders already accessing Netflix US — is improved performance with the local service, particularly with ultra HD content (Hunt says with up to 500ms lag times, he's amazed Netflix US has been so smooth for so many Kiwis). With its Open Connect Content Delivery technology, Netflix can work to cache content directly with ISPs, though Hunt says the company never comments on specific deals.

Content is king
The assembled Netflix crew seemed slightly bemused I was so impressed Netflix NZ would launch immediately in NZ on every platform, and at up to 4K quality with supported content. Netflix is now a $US4 billion company by revenue, with 57 million subscribers around the world. All it's apps are done and dusted. It hasn't taken fright at a modest outlay to make sure it's local service will be crossplatform, and has had a long lead up. Where local services fret over spending $80,000 to add a new smart TV brand to their pool of supported platforms, Hunt is at the grown-ups end of the pool, pushing Netflix-commissioned producers to shoot content in 4K.

Me, I'm a yokel used to NZ services launching with one or two platforms, quality as modest as 1.5 Mbit/s (hello, Neon) and nobody with direct Apple TV support.

But ... not quite. like so many Kiwis, I'm also a citizen of the world in terms of online viewing. I'm used to the superb mix of Netflix original series and back-catalogue content on Netflix US, the excellent mix of contemporary series on Hulu (the ace catch-up TV and catalogue service co-owned by a goup of the big US TV networks), and a la carte options on Apple's US and Aussie services. And others are hitting Amazon Prime. You know the drill.

So the big question is: can Netflix NZ content compete with Netflix US?

The company has already said its NZ service will be a subset of Netflix US content (although it will aim to improve over time as local rights held by Sky TV and other to key content expire). And at the end of the day, while technical adroitness is appreciated, content is king. So far, Netflix has made some limited announcements about NZ content. We'll have to wait until the launch date for the full lineup, and in any case we already know it will be years in some cases before Netflix can bid for NZ content, and for it to wait-out existing agreements so its own shows are unique to Netflix NZ (currently, they're all over the map; TVNZ and multiple streaming services have the Netflix-made Orange is the New Black, Sky TV and its Neon service have Lillyhammer, House of Cards is everywhere and so on).

All up, Neflix seems like a bit of an unstoppable freight train.

Its CEO Reed Hastings recently said the age of broadcast TV will probably end around 2030.

Hunt says he sees a huge shift to internet-delivered content, and all streamed entertainment programming going to Netflix, and services like it. But he also notes Netflix has no plans to go into local news or sports, making them two potential fortress areas for traditional TV companies (it also makes Lightbox Sports seem a smart play in the NZ streaming market. And if you missed it early today, Spark has jacked up its first-year Lightbox spend from $20 million to $35 million. Ditto Sky TV's recently launched Fanpass). 

I'm seeing the Netflix crew again at an event this evening, so if you've got any questions, leave them in Comments below.

ckeall@nbr.co.nz

* A Sky TV insider messages NBR: "Why do you say it will be sky grumbling? What about free-to-airs? Our prize HBO content isn't even on Netflix anywhere in the world, FTAs, say, have more content on Netflix than Sky." Great to hear. Allow Global Mode ads then.

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