Joanna Hunkin is the Head of Entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Streaming gets serious: The war for TV hearts and eyes

House of Cards, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones: who's watching what, and where are they watching it?
House of Cards, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones: who's watching what, and where are they watching it?

More than a year after Netflix launched in New Zealand, new research confirms the subscriber streaming service is the most popular with Kiwis, with more than 264,000 paid subscribers by the end of 2015.

That's more than double the number signed up to Lightbox, according to Roy Morgan Research, which released subscriber figures in its State of the Nation report last month.

According to the report, one in four Kiwis had access to a paid video-on-demand service by the end of last year, including 128,000 signed up to Lightbox and 22,000 subscribing to Sky's Neon service.

Viewers have more streaming TV options than ever before.
Viewers have more streaming TV options than ever before.

None of the services has ever revealed their official subscriber numbers, citing commercial sensitivity.

Streaming giant Netflix entered the New Zealand market in March 2015 to great fanfare, bringing with it acclaimed original series including Bloodline, Narcos and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

The move forced its competitors to act defensively with Spark's Lightbox service, which launched in August 2014, immediately dropping its monthly subscription fee from $15 to $12.99.

Sky also went on the offensive, rushing to launch its own streaming service Neon, which launched ahead of Netflix in February but was delayed by a series of technical issues.

At the same time, TVNZ launched its revamped on-demand service, overhauling a system first launched in 2007. According to a spokesperson, the free service now has more than 1.16 million registered users.

But now, more than a year on, how does each of the services stack up? At the time of launch, anecdotal reports suggested every service suffered technical issues, with the exception of Netflix.

We set about testing the five key players to see which streaming service offers the best user experience. Rather than focus on content, we tested the technical performance of each service to see which offered plain sailing - and which are struggling to stay afloat.

House of Cards streams via Netflix, Breaking Bad on Lightbox, and Game of Thrones via Neon.
House of Cards streams via Netflix, Breaking Bad on Lightbox, and Game of Thrones via Neon.

TVNZ on Demand

Joanna Hunkin: This is the service that triggered this story, after I spent a sad Saturday afternoon in May trying - and failing - to watch Don't Tell the Bride on TVNZ on Demand. Despite multiple attempts to watch the series (which is trainwreck telly at its best), I never got further than the opening ad sequence. I tried some other series, just to see what would happen, and was met by the same frozen screen. Annoyed, I gave up.

The following weekend, I had another go. Success! I made it through two segments and an ad break before the screen went black and froze.

A final attempt a week later was met with better results. For the first time in memory, I made it through a full hour-long show without the app crashing.

More than a year after TVNZ launched its revamped on demand service, it's astounding the system is still so glitchy. A recent software upgrade appears to have fixed the issue but experience has taught me it's only a matter of time before something else goes wrong.

* Visit TVNZ on Demand here.

3Now

Joanna Hunkin: Once widely regarded as the worst player in the market, a new and improved 3Now launched in April and offers a significantly better service. Admittedly, the content offerings are still limited but the player is reliable and the addition of livestreaming is a smart move.

The live streaming works well but appears to break if you pause for more than a few seconds. Refreshing the page works sometimes - but not always. That aside, it's a pretty good service, assuming you can a) find anything worth watching and b) are prepared to sit through more than seven minutes of ads per hour.

* Visit 3Now here.

Lightbox

Chris Schulz: Full disclosure: I didn't want to use Lightbox again. I bailed on the service when an episode of Flesh & Bone crashed on me four separate times through the Playstation app. But, several months on, I've returned to the service and been pleasantly surprised. I've been watching cult show The Path, and I've had no problems with the first few episodes. There have been no buffering issues whatsoever. And just last weekend, I nervously tuned into Preacher, which not only streamed perfectly and looked great but was a really good show to boot. Lightbox, I'm back. But you'd better be on your best behaviour.

* Visit Lightbox here.

Neon

Joanna Hunkin: As the most expensive service in the market, Neon came in for some flack when it launched in February 2015. The layout and interface was confusing and cluttered. But things have improved greatly since then and today's offering is user friendly and efficient.

Having avoided the service for more than a year, I put Neon through its paces when I took up the ridiculous challenge of watching five series of Game of Thrones in four weeks. Throughout that time, there were never any glitches, barring one weekend when the whole service went offline for 24 hours. An apology message explained the issue and I didn't waste any time trying to watch a faulty service.

There is still a gap in the content available - Neon features an odd mix of excellent content (the latest episodes of Thrones, Catastrophe and Girls) alongside some fairly obscure rubbish (Dance Moms, Blinging Up Baby) but the back catalogue is growing and it easily delivers the best movie offerings, with new releases added monthly.

* Visit Neon here.

Netflix

Chris Schulz: Like most people, I watch Netflix all the time. It's on almost every day. If it isn't streaming episodes of Curious George or Charlie and Lola for the kids, it's streaming Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Chef's Table and Bloodline for the adults. Running through the Playstation app and on iPads, in the year-plus time I've been a subscriber the service has crashed on me just the once - and I'm pretty sure that's because one of the kids fell on the Playstation unit. So yep, Netflix is the real deal, the best of the best, TV's holy grail. If I was only allowed one streaming service in my life, I'd choose this one.

* Visit Netflix here.

Most-Watched programmes in May



Lightbox
1. Outlander
2. Suits
3. Vikings
4. Breaking Bad
5. The Mindy Project

Neon
1. Game of Thrones
2. Fear The Walking Dead
3. Minions [Movie]
4. Reign
5. Jurassic World [Movie]

TVNZ
1. Grey's Anatomy
2. Shortland Street
3. Quantico
4. Home & Away
5. The Big Bang Theory

* Netflix and 3Now did not supply their top five in time for deadline.

- NZ Herald

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