The arrival of global entertainment giant Netflix in New Zealand next month is sparking an unprecedented battle for TV eyeballs. With 57 million subscribers in 50 countries, the internet television network serves up more than two billion hours of entertainment content to its customers every month, including original series, documentaries and feature films. That has prompted established and emerging providers in New Zealand to respond to the threat of US-based Netflix by rolling out a few serious sweeteners. Within two weeks, TVNZ will launch its new-look on-demand service, meaning its content will be easier and faster to view than before. TV3 has its own on-demand service, 3Now, and is also trying uncharted territory by live streaming upcoming hit reality show The X Factor, the first time a New Zealand network has live-streamed a major entertainment programme at the same time as the TV broadcast. This is on top of a raft of big-money TV3 reality shows coming soon, including The Bachelor NZ, a new season of MasterChef NZ and a revamped The Block. Meanwhile, Spark is offering a 12-month free subscription to video-on-demand service Lightbox to broadband subscribers. It is expected Sky TV's new subscription video-on-demand service Neon will partner with Vodafone and announce a six-month free trial period for broadband customers. Viewers are already swamped with options for watching their favourite programmes. Most content is available on TVs, PCs, laptops, iPads, tablets and smartphones. The bombardment of viewers' senses is unlikely to ease, according to author and media commentator Dr Misha Kavka, associate dean of Film, Television and Media Studies at Auckland University. She believes once the fuss around Netflix dies, next cab off the rank will be Amazon Prime, a new content service from the US online retail giant which is rapidly taking off overseas. "Everyone is looking over their shoulders and throwing all sorts of deals at customers," says Kavka. "The danger is viewers become overloaded, overwhelmed and confused about what they should be watching and where. "Things will eventually settle down and providers will get viewership that matches content. There is no doubt we are on the verge of a significant change over how people get their TV programmes." Providers are adamant that more choice and competition is good news for consumers. TVNZ's on-demand service hit a new high last year, with a record 6.3 million streams in October. The network will introduce new attractions, including a "pick up and play" feature in which viewers can return to where they left off watching a programme on their smartphone, laptop or tablet. Jeff Latch, TVNZ's head of content, believes the quality of programmes will ultimately win viewers. He says a mix of quality homegrown and international content will be key. TV One has high hopes for upcoming Kiwi reality series Our First Home. The second run of British drama Broadchurch is also going down well on all the platforms. New homegrown mini-series offering When We Go to War is expected to be a ratings buster, as is the launch of Thunderbirds. "We can have some material screening straight after it has played in the United States and months before Netflix and others get it." Travis Dunbar, Sky Television's local director of entertainment content, is convinced Neon will go down well with the pay TV service's 856,000 subscribers. "When you consider New Zealand is about the same size of market as Arizona, there is disproportionate competition for viewers," he says. "But remember we have SoHo and are home to popular programmes like Breaking Bad, Game of Thronesand Mad Men. "SoHo has so much good content that it suffers from its success. People moan about having to pay for all the good programmes." Neon will be a massive expansion for Sky customers, he adds. Lightbox chief executive Kym Niblock reckons a keenly priced $15 monthly subscription and a tie-in with Spark is a "very customer-friendly proposition. We also have no ads and are super-easy to use." Niblock cites upcoming attractions such as Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul as a ratings winner. "There is also a frenzy around the next series of Outlander," she says. Herald on Sunday TV writer Dominic Corry believes Kiwis have taken time to warm to streaming TV, but thinks Netflix will chage that. "Netflix's major advantage over its competitors is name recognition," he says. "Lightbox may be ramping up its marketing and TVNZ is pointing to its on-demand service at the end of every on-air promo, but Net-flix easily supersedes both of them as a global streaming brand." Dr Rosemary Overell, lecturer in media at Otago University, says the changing ways we watch TV could have a long-term impact on families. Time-shifting technologies, on-demand menus and myriad viewing platforms encourage people to watch alone, she says. "Television used to be a shared experience for families. People would get around the TV set in their living rooms to watch favourite programmes together and talk about them afterwards, but that is significantly diminishing. "Nowadays mum and dad are watching on the sofa and the kids are on their computers," Overell says. "Previously, families who watched a lot of TV together would even get frowned on for being being couch potatoes, but even this view is now falling into the area of nostalgia and being remembered fondly by some."
One in five Kiwi households now has a smart TV - and demand is rising. Smart TVs are connected to the internet and allow couch potatoes to watch online shows on the TV screen instead of on a tablet or laptop. It also means you can check your Facebook account or read your emails in between watching a movie. Market leader Samsung's smart TV has apps on the screen which you click on using your remote, much like using a smartphone. It boasts one of the largest ranges, including TVNZ OnDemand, Lightbox, Video-Ezy and English football premier league. "Users can feast on live and on-demand TV programmes as well as watching YouTube or hooking up with family and friends on Skype," Mike Cornwell, Samsung's marketing director said. The Samsung model is one of several on the market, all with different apps and features.
What are you watching? Sir Graham Henry
Sir Graham Henry is old school. He prefers to watch his favourite programmes on a regular television set. "I like a big screen rather than a computerised device. I'm pretty boring when it comes to TV and I only really watch news and sport. Having a decent-sized screen is the best way to view the rugby or cricket."
Former television host Tamati Coffey tunes in to his TV and also to his laptop. "I have been getting Netflix for free because I have my broadband with Orcon and it is fantastic. "Elsewhere, I have also been glued to a great new drama series, Transparent
, about a transgender dad. I also like Apple TV for movies."
Jacinda Ardern Jacinda Ardern
Labour politician Jacinda Ardern says on-demand is a godsend. "I am usually too busy to sit down and watch regular broadcasts and I don't subscribe to a paid-for provider. As well as the news, my favourite shows are things like the political drama Borgen
and I am right into the second series of Broadchurch
Andrew Papas from chart-topping Kiwi boyband Titanium is a big fan of on-demand. "I work strange hours and catch up with my programmes during the day. My favourites are The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Game of Thrones
and the American dating show Baggage
, which is so bad it is brilliant."
William Kircher William Kircher Hobbit
actor William Kircher doesn't watch much traditional telly nowadays. "Sky and channels like SoHo are a must for me as I find channels one to three are full of bland, American cop shows. Breaking Bad
is one of my top hits but I also like old comedy stuff such as I Dream of Jeannie
TVNZ OnDemand Orange is the New Black What is it?
TV One, TV2 and video on-demand service. Cost:
Free. What do I get?
A revamped TVNZ OnDemand. Launching this month, the new system will allow you to create watchlists and mark favourite programmes. What are the best shows?
Recent hits include Criminal Minds
, The Vampire Diaries
and Orange Is the New Black
. Upcoming premieres include iZombie
, season three of The Following
, new drama series American Crime
and eight exclusive online mini-episodes of Shortland Street
3NowWhat is it?
TV3 and video on-demand service. Cost:
Free. What are the best shows?
Popular home renovation show The Block
and comedies 7 Days
and Jono and Ben at 10
. Last year, MediaWorks became the first free-to-air network to offer a series and an online box set - House of Cards
. Upcoming premieres include The X Factor NZ
, streamed live, MasterChef NZ
and The Bachelor NZ
. What's the catch?
Advertisements interrupting your viewing and limited international content.
Sky Television Game of Thrones What is it?
Subscription-based content provider accessed with a TV set-top box as well as online. Cost:
Basic package of 65 channels starts at $48.07. Sky also offers premium channel packages at an additional cost, including movies, sport, SoHo and Sky Arts. Upcoming services include Neon, a subscription video on-demand service that will have thousands of hours of ad-free TV and movies, costing $20 a month. What are the best shows?
Flagship drama channel SoHo offers exclusive content, such as the latest series of Game of Thrones
just hours after the US premiere. Upcoming premieres include Westworld
and Show Me a Hero
. My Sky allows TV to be paused or recorded. What's the catch?
Although the basic package is less than $50 a month, if subscribing to other packages, individual channels and/or Neon, costs soon mount up.
Lightbox Better call Saul What is it?
Subscription-based content service available to anyone with broadband and a TV or compatible device. Cost:
$15 a month, although free for 12 months in partnership with Spark broadband. What are the best shows?
Exclusive content includes Better Call Saul, Transparent, Outlander, Vikings
. Sports events such as English Premier League football and PGA tour golf will also soon be available as an add-on, live and on demand. What's the catch?
Although New Zealand content includes Out of the Blue
, Nothing Trivial
and The Jaquie Brown Diaries
, local content is otherwise fairly limited.
NetflixWhat is it?
US-based subscription-based content provider launching in New Zealand next month. It has 57 million subscribers across 50 countries watching online shows. Cost:
Still to be confirmed but estimated at between $12 and $15 a month. What are the best shows?
Original series such as Marco Polo
, BoJack Horseman
and kids' animation biggie All Hail Julien
. Upcoming premieres include family thriller Bloodline
and superhero series Marvel's Daredevil
. What's the catch?
Not much New Zealand content.