Streaming platforms, also known as subscription video on demand (SVOD) are increasingly popular, and with basic plans at around $10 a month, they seem to be an affordable way to keep up with all your favourite TV shows and movies without blowing the budget. But just how great are they? I thought I’d check out the pros and cons of Australian streaming platforms, both paid and free subscriptions, and tell you how and where to find unknown treasures. Then I’ll break down what is on each platform, so you can pick the right one for you out of the paid subscriptions including Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime Video, and the free platforms of ABC iView and SBS On Demand.
- You can watch your favourite TV shows and movies whenever you want on your phone, tablet or laptop.
- Able watch wherever you want, as the platforms are on your own device using the internet, not with extra equipment needed like a DVD.
- Get access to vast libraries of TV shows and movies. This is the reason many people get a subscription.
- The ability to binge watch a series or ten, with multiple seasons located in one place.
- Content is from around the world, so if you want to you could watch a French arthouse film followed by a Scandi noir series, a Bollywood drama and end with a Chinese martial arts film.
- In Australia, we can suddenly access more content at the touch of our fingertips than ever before. Content is available sooner after the US or European release, especially with fast-tracked TV shows.
- You can download many of your favourite movies or TV shows onto your device to watch offline when you’re away from wi-fi or running close to your data limit with Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime Video.
- In what has been labelled the Golden Age of Television, we are getting more quality content as budgets for TV shows grow larger and streaming platforms create their own original shows. One example of this is The Crown on Netflix, where production of the first two seasons is reported to have cost US $100 million.
- The time lag between release on US or Europe streaming platforms and release in Australia continues for many shows and is frustrating. We desperately cling to Spoiler Alerts as we wait for access. With these time delays and the geo-blocking of programs, it is not a surprise that many Australians resort to illegal streaming, torrenting, file transfers, and piracy. In fact, every time a new season of Game of Thrones is released, Australia tops the statistics of illegal streams and downloads, which is quite a feat given our small population.
- You need a steady internet connection, so if the wi-fi or 4G isn’t feeling up to it, you can’t watch anything (unless you’ve already downloaded the shows).
- You don’t have the cinema experience when watching on a small screen. While a laptop or TV screen is decent compared to a phone screen, the floor to ceiling big screen at the cinema remains unbeatable for big act blockbusters and an immersive experience.
- While each streaming platform has a great library, many of them hold exclusivity for certain shows, so you might need to hold a few subscriptions in order to watch all the shows you want.
- Content doesn’t stay on platforms forever. While Netflix or Amazon Prime Originals hang around, many films or TV shows will disappear off the platforms after a year or two. While some make a comeback, others never make it onto the platform in the first place.
- You need to have a large data allowance or have some great wi-fi connections, which can get pretty expensive. According to CHOICE, a consumer review and advocacy site, on average, standard definition streaming uses about 1 gigabyte (GB) per hour, but if you’re streaming in high-definition (HD) then it’s closer to 3GB per hour and up to 7GB per hour for 4K streaming.
- Basic plans are for standard definition video quality, so if you want to watch in HD or 4K then you need to upgrade and pay more.
- The international focus of streaming platforms means that there is less focus on Australian made programs. This has led the Australian screen industry this year to call for Australian content to be 10 per cent of programming spending, as unlike free-to-air and pay TV networks, there are not quotas in place for on-demand streaming.
So how to choose which platform is right for you?
Netflix has the largest library of film and TV of all the platforms, but due to exclusivity, is missing many of the titles available on the US Netflix, which is why Netflix has shifted focus to producing more original content recently, meaning it can provide both quality and quantity of offerings.
Over on Stan, there might be a smaller library, but it still packs a punch. It has popular shows like Better Call Saul, Ash vs Evil Dead, UnReal, Lost Girl, and the Twin Peaks revival, the entire catalogues of Seinfeld and Friends, as well as original Australian content like Wolf Creek and No Activity.
The film side to Stan is also substantial, with a range of classic films including the entire James Bond collection. Unfortunately, according to some of our Stan-user friends, it can be quite glitchy watching on Stan through a TV and on the app, so it might be worth keeping that in mind, especially if you’re impatient. If you’re a fan of classic movies like Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park and Scream, and keen to check out The Grand Tour and American Gods, then Amazon Prime Video might be your go-to. But keep in mind that its library is quite a bit smaller than Netflix or Stan.
Meanwhile, if you can’t get enough of reality TV, then streaming service Hayu is the one for you and at only $5.99 a month it’s currently the cheapest of the paid platforms.
ABC iView is a great catch-up service for shows screened on free-to-air, and they release entire seasons at a time for new dramas. This is probably your go-to for Australian dramas, but it’s worth remembering that shows only stay on the platform for a few months, unlike many of the other platforms.
The biggest benefit of SBS On Demand is that it is free to sign up, all you need is an email address. With a huge film library, most in non-English languages and a range of international dramas, which stay online for up to two years, SBS On Demand is definitely worth a look. The downside? Ads about every ten to fifteen minutes, sometimes at crucial plot points, criticised when The Handmaid’s Tale season two was released this year.
One notable show hasn’t been mentioned as it isn’t available on any of these platforms. It is, of course, Game of Thrones, which is held exclusively by Foxtel and if you want to watch it you need to get the Drama Pack on Foxtel Now, at $15 per month.
So while you are trying to decide which platform to subscribe to, I’ve found five shows you can watch for free on our Australian streaming platforms. On SBS On Demand you can find a few gems depending on your interests. Donald Glover fans should check out Atlanta. If you’re more into dystopias, The Handmaid’s Tale is worth a look. When your business degree is not quite exciting enough for you, Bad Banks is your go-to. And for those that prefer a good lawyer drama, start binge-watching The Good Fight. Over on ABC iView, if you’re into British spy thrillers have a look at Killing Eve.
Disclaimer: As an avid movie and TV watcher, I have Netflix and a subscription to SBS On Demand, and occasionally watch shows on ABC iView.