New Zealand's streaming space has always been a David and Goliath battle. Only instead of a single David steadily aiming his slingshot at a towering brute of an invader like in the story, we've had a couple of scrappy Dave's all putting on a brave face but failing to graze the target let alone land a king hit.
The Goliath in our living rooms has always been Netflix. Despite being late to our party when the global streaming powerhouse finally showed up it made a helluva entrance, swaggering in with a deep catalogue of films and telly and - crucially - a cheap price tag of $9.99 a month.
I was convinced. In my 2015 column about its launch I wrote, "Netflix's astoundingly low price point allows me to overlook the catalogue gaps in both its film and television offerings."
Back then, which was only five years ago but feels like 50, Neon wanted double your money, demanding a whopping $20 a month. Aside from the sky high price there was also big disappointment when you learned that parent company Sky was intentionally hamstringing Neon to protect its set-top box subscriber model by withholding the current seasons of all their biggest shows like Game of Thrones, The Fall or Girls for up to five months.
I was not convinced. In my 2015 column about its launch I wrote, "So the content's good, but it's old. And nobody pays a premium for old."
In the middle of these two sat Lightbox. Spark's foray into broadcasting was always an odd proposition in that it decided to double down on television and forego movies completely.
They split the difference and wanted $15 of your hard earned bucks a month. A laughable proposition without movies until you learnt that they were home to some of the best television going, shows like the brilliant Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul , the conversation dominating The Handmaid's Tale and Pamela Adlon's exceptional dramedy Better Things.
I was convinced. In my 2015 column about their launch I wrote, "Lightbox are showing they came to play. If this announcement garners the awareness it should do from New Zealand's more discerning viewers it could turn out to be their Mighty Ducks moment."
Spoilers: it wasn't. Netflix was already entrenched. The cruel irony being that as those two services improved over the years Netflix began to slip. They hiked their prices up, then hiked them again. They clipped their catalogue, offering forgettable movies from the 2008-2012 era and losing a bunch of great TV shows as the began pursuing their strategy of producing 'Netflix Originals' to mixed results.
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While yes, they've produced some truly fantastic movies and shows, Uncut Gems, Stranger Things and Ozark spring quickly to mind, they've also produced some absolute dross as they attempt to be all things to all people and keep those monthly subs ticking over.
But their failures didn't hurt them any. But the bigger you are the harder you fall and Lightbox and Neon kept pinging away. The former would eventually add the option to rent recent movies and Neon would eventually change tack, dropping its price substantially and making sure the latest episodes of all their award-winning shows were available immediately.
You'd hesitate to call competitors 'the Calvary' but the arrival of Disney+, Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video, as well as the huge overhaul and resource TVNZ has pumped into dramatically improving their service TVNZ OnDemand, all pinging their respective slingshots at Netflix has, for the first time, seen the streaming Goliath looking a bit shaky on its feet.
Which is why I think last week's merger of Lightbox and Neon was a brilliant move and gives them a real fighting chance. I don't think a knockout is possible as they're in different weight classes but if they stay nimble they have a decent shot at going the distance.
Because by assimilating Lightbox, Neon now has access to all the best TV shows currently in production, they offer better and way more recent films than Netflix - once you discount their hit and miss Netflix Originals - and have added many quality of life improvements like profiles and downloads and all that good stuff, as well as offering the latest movie rentals. Crucially, the price has stayed at $13.99 a month, a couple of bucks cheaper than their main rival.
All up it makes for a very convincing proposition and one that should see many starting to cheer for the local underdog over its colossal foreign foe.