As a Netflix AU subscriber, I find I'm often asked by friends and family whether or not I think it’s worth it. I invariably tell them that it is.
Setting aside the small fact that the first month is free, so asking my opinion seems odd when you could just check it out for yourself at no charge, the primary cause for hesitation seems to be a perceived lack of content when it comes to what the service offers Down Under.
Is your broadband connection ready?
The average Aussie watches around 52 hours of TV per month, according to an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) survey in 2013. If you're used to traditional TV sources like Free-to-Air or Foxtel then you may have never had need of a large monthly download cap.
Netflix delivers content via the web. It can turn your once data-light household in to a bandwidth heavy-weight. Check if your connection is ready for Netflix before signing up or you might find you hit your download cap well before month's end.
This stigma surrounding the fledgling Australian and New Zealand Netflix region is thanks to countless media articles pointing out how many fewer TV shows and movies we have than do our US cousins. That may be true, but compare any other Netflix region to that of the US and you’ll also come up short.
Netflix UK (3392 titles), France (1599), Germany (1634), Brasil (3313), Sweden (2502) and Italy (2657) all sit well under the US region's 7573 available titles, according to NetflixAroundTheWorld.com. The closest any other region gets is Canada at 3899.
Granted, the AU & NZ region is currently the smallest, but with almost 1300 titles (source), a number that Netflix continues adding to, are you really worried that you won’t find something in there you’ll like?
My personal 'My List' of to-watch Netflix content is already 79 titles strong. That includes movies I never got around to seeing, documentaries I find appealing, TV shows with hours of content for which I’m trying to find time, and a bunch of old stuff I’ve already seen but would like to either watch again or share with my partner.
Just because the US has more toys than we do doesn’t mean that Netflix AU isn't a bounty of content for a reasonable price.
One account, global access
If you’re subscribed to the US region and are trying to decide whether or not making the jump to AU is worth it, do I have good news for you: Netflix accounts are global. You can use your already-existing US (or other region) account to sign in to Netflix AU. No extra subscription payment needed.
Any content that you’ve saved in your 'My List' is still there, assuming that it’s available to watch in this region, and Netflix remembers your viewing habits and preferences when suggesting new content.
You can still access the US account on your PC if you want, but get all the benefits of the Aussie-based service whenever you need it.
The benefits of AU Netflix
Many Aussies are used to the US version of Netflix. It’s estimated that between 20 000 and a crazy 200 000 Netflix US accounts are actually from Australians using VPNs and proxies to get around the geo-location block. These users have become accustomed to the larger library, but what about stream quality and points of access?
AU Netflix provides two major benefits over streaming from the US:
1. Device compatibility
Unless you have a spare PC or laptop lying around to which you can connect your TV as a computer monitor, it requires a lot of fooling around and technical know-how to set a TV up with US Netflix.
This is because all regions but AU & NZ are blocked to users within Australia. This is super easy to get around on a computer with use of a VPN or geo-blocking service like Hola, but on a TV your options are limited.
If you aren’t ultra-techy and don’t have the cash to buy a computer purely for your TV, there are tonnes of options open to you if you go with the AU Netflix region.
Smart TVs: most big brand Smart TVs have Netflix apps specially designed for them. Connect your TV to your home’s internet network and search its app store for Netflix.
Game consoles: The Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Wii U can all download and run their own Netflix apps. If you already own one of these then just jump online and grab it. If not, you can probably find and old Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 on Gumtree or Ebay for fairly cheap.
Tablets and phones: Just about all modern iOS and Android devices will run Netflix. It’s a good idea to make sure you’re on a WiFi connection when you do, but this opens up video streaming to even more areas of your house. It may even spur you to get yourself that hammock you've been eyeing off.
Chromecast and Apple TV: Buy a $49 Chromecast or $109 Apple TV and control your Netflix experience with your phone or tablet. It'll still play on your TV, but you won't have to muck about choosing content with your TV remote.
2. Better, faster streaming
Streaming Netflix from the US works fine for some, but thanks to the large distances between our two countries, it can often take a long time for a video to buffer. After that, you may be plagued with frequent drops in stream quality and video pausing. If you’re among the majority of Aussies that use ADSL, Netflix's automatic video quality shifting means you may never even glimpse HD resolution.
As many expected all along, Australia is much closer to Australia than the US is. Streams start faster and I personally manage to maintain an HD stream over my ADSL connection for most of a movie, even during peak hour. On a typical night I get only a few drops to standard definition before it jumps back up to HD again.
Obviously, it’s not all roses
I do not judge Australian Netflix to be without flaws. The sci-fi section is a little thinner than I’d like and I often find myself looking for the next season of a show I’ve become hooked on only to find that it’s not available yet.
And yes: there are far fewer titles than on the US version. You will notice this.
It doesn’t really matter when you're talking about cost-to-benefit. If you’re used to the US Netflix on your PC, then you’re probably already a paying subscriber. Just sign in to the AU service on your TV and watch what’s available. It will cost you nothing more than you already pay.
If you’re not used to the US version then 1268 titles is going to seem like more than enough for a starting price of $8.99 (although you probably want the $11.99 subscription). I still have trouble choosing what to watch, not because there’s not enough content, but because my options are too numerous.
A word of caution to newbies: new-comers to the video streaming model will find it unreliable at times. During peak periods your internet connection may slow down, making things difficult. Depending on your provider, you might also get slower speeds late at night. You may never have noticed this drop in speed before staying up late to sneak in a guilty episode or two of Pretty Little Liars became your new nightly tradition, but you will now.
I guess it’s a good thing that the first month is free. Just remember to cancel your subscription if you decide it’s not for you, or next month the fee will be automatically charged to your credit card.
You'll also need to stay on top of your internet usage. If your cap isn't up to scratch, you may end up hitting your monthly data allowance in short order. To be sure you're prepared, feel free to read up on if your broadband connection is ready for Netflix before wasting that precious first free month.