Opinion

Is streaming the future of TV?

By James Bennett

Yesterday, Disney+ launched in Australia, becoming the newest streaming service to fight for our money.

As a global corporation powerhouse, Disney gave itself a head start by using a fair chunk of marketing devoted to a product people were familiar with.

The Mandalorian is the first Star Wars live action television series — and a genius ploy by Disney.

It knows people will be rushing to sign up because Star Wars is arguably the biggest pop culture franchise and you can only watch this show by signing up and paying for it.

But looking beyond Star Wars, Disney is another streaming site that could have serious consequences for Australian media.

The three main free-to-air channels — Seven, Nine and 10 — can't be too excited. They're already competing with a pretty long list of streaming services.

The most well known in Australia is Netflix, followed by Stan and Amazon Prime.

AppleTV is a new arrival to the streaming scene and a few social media websites have their own such as YouTube Premium and Facebook Watch.

Apparently there are a lot more floating around.

For me Netflix is enough. I barely use it, yet ironically I'm the guy stuck with the bill every month and have three lovely moochers in my family.

The streaming websites offer a big difference to mainstream television — no advertisements during TV shows or movies.

Above all, everything is at your command. You can skip intros, end credits, pause (come back to it later) and also auto-play onto the next episode.

It's hard for regular TV to compete with that, plus these streaming services usually cost less than $20 a month.

Netflix also seems to hit home runs in the TV series it produces — though it should be said, its movies not so much.

The question I'd like to know is, how do people have the time to consume so much TV and movies?

As much as these "must watch" programs are probably fantastic, I don't really need to watch everything.

I've never watched Game of Thrones, Making a Murderer or Breaking Bad and to be honest, it hasn't made any difference to my life.

I love Star Wars but I don't necessarily want to pay Disney money just to watch The Mandalorian, regardless of the rave reviews. I already refuse to buy a ticket to the cinema to watch their live-action remakes of cartoon classics.

It seems sport might be one of the saving graces for the main free-to-air channels. However, it won't be long before sport streaming becomes more prominent in Australia.

Using the AFL as an example, I wouldn't be a surprise if there's a future deal struck that ensures one game per round is streamed exclusively through the AFL that we have to pay for.

But with Foxtel and at least one free-to-air station prepared to put up the money for AFL, they know it can be profitable with advertisement space.

There's also been calls to make women's sport available by more free-to-air coverage, another potential saving grace.

Free-to-air is now scrambling to find content for viewers that is fresh and entertaining.

An example of the desperation to snatch viewers was the disastrous Saturday Night Rove that aired earlier this year.

Rove McManus is a well known face and one of Network 10's beloved personalities.

In an attempt to fill the dreaded Saturday night time slot, the network thought Rove would be a possible fit.

Unfortunately, people just don't seem to be interested in Rove anymore which is why it was axed after two episodes. And the content didn't set the world on fire.

It's hard for Australian TV to compete with the American-owned steaming services.

Companies such as Disney and Netflix have the money to sign blank cheques to make big budget productions, where Australia just doesn't have that.

What does have the potential to really hurt free-to-air is when those big companies are prepared to sign the big cheques for exclusive Australian content.

James Bennett is a journalist at The News. Follow him on Twitter: @jwbennett93. Check out more of his columns below:

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