Australians have complained for years about hit international TV shows being delayed locally, but it is often difficult to pinpoint specific examples.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve taken an in-depth look at the most popular TV shows of 2014 and their availability in Australia. What I found reveals the situation is perhaps more dire than most of us have realised.
Out of the thirty-one shows surveyed, just two were available to Australian viewers on TV and available for purchase digitally within 24 hours of their US premiere.
I’ll repeat that. Two. (Those were Da Vinci’s Demons Season Two and Mad Men Season Seven.)
Let’s put aside online services for a moment. Just 23% of the TV shows surveyed were shown on Australian TV (either free-to-air or Foxtel) within 24 hours of their US screening, and a further 13% were shown within a week.
From here, the numbers take a turn for the worse. 32% took more than a week to arrive on Australian TV screens — and these shows weren’t just a little bit more than a week — they averaged a delay of an astonishing 54 days.
That leaves a further 32% of the TV shows surveyed which have no specific air date or have not been confirmed if they will air in Australia. These non-airing shows aren’t just niches or junk programming either; they include award-nominated shows in a variety of categories.
The picture gets even worse when it comes to the ability of Australians to purchase episodes after they air, which can be particularly important for those who don’t own Foxtel but still want to keep up to date with a TV show.
This survey looked at iTunes, Google Play, Xbox Video and Quickflix and it revealed just 10% (just three out of the thirty-one shows) were made available for purchase within 24 hours of its US release. A further 19% were available within a month and another 19% took more than a month. A staggering 52% of the TV shows surveyed have not been made available at all on digital stores.
“A staggering 52% of the TV shows surveyed have not been made available at all on digital stores”
If you’re wondering how I selected the thirty-one shows to be surveyed, I tried to choose an objective method. In the end I settled on looking at the thirty-one highest rated TV shows, according to MetaCritic scores (using an average of the aggregate critic scores and user scores), that premiered in the first six months of 2014.
Those chosen were comprised of 11 new TV shows such as Halt and Catch Fire, True Detective, and Fargo, as well as 20 returning series including Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, and Hannibal.
Not Available In Your Region
Ten of the shows surveyed are not yet available to Australians in any legitimate form at all, not airing on free to air TV, Foxtel or via digital distribution. They include Rectify Season 2, Louie Season 4 (Emmy nominated for best actor in a comedy series), Community Season 5, Portlandia Season 4 (Emmy nominated for best supporting actor in a comedy series), The Normal Heart (Emmy nominated for best actor in a tele-movie), The Trip to Bountiful (Emmy nominated for best actor in a tele-movie), Review, and Halt and Catch Fire.
“Ten of the shows surveyed are not yet available to Australians in any legitimate form at all”
Whilst other shows surveyed, including Game of Thrones, have actually become less accessible for Australians. Since Foxtel signed a new exclusivity deal with HBO, Australians without Foxtel have no way to purchase new episodes of Game of Thrones and other HBO shows until the end of their seasons.
That has changed since last year when new episodes of Game of Thrones were also available for purchase on iTunes just hours after airing on Foxtel. Instead, Australians this year had to wait until the whole season had finished before they could purchase it on Google Play or Quickflix (it was also made available on iTunes in mid-July).
Keeping It Weekly
Of course, there are even worse examples than Game of Thrones. Netflix’s popular and highly regarded original series House of Cards and Orange is the New Black highlight just how ridiculous the situation can be.
House of Cards Season 2 did air within a day of its US release, except Foxtel aired just one episode a week (the digital release was available hours after airing on Foxtel).
For those unfamiliar with Netflix’s model, they released all 13 episodes of House of Cards instantly, meaning Australians who waited the 3 months to watch the finale on Foxtel had to avoid (big) spoilers on Twitter, Facebook, BuzzFeed and all manner of other sources.
The situation is even worse for Orange is the New Black which–despite being released by Netflix on June 6–won’t appear on Foxtel until July 26 and once again, it will be a staggered release. Both House of Cards and Orange is the New Black received more than 10 Emmy nominations each.
Meanwhile, Australians who used a VPN or service such as Unblock-US and purchased a US Netflix subscription were able to watch either show at the same time as those in the US.
Three Strikes And You’re Out
The poor results from the survey come at a time when the government, led by Attorney-General George Brandis, is investigating measures to combat piracy. Among the reported options on the table are a three-strikes policy which has been implemented by other countries with little effect according to Monash Law academic Rebecca Giblin.
Also being canvassed is the idea of blocking websites that offer pirated content, another policy that many believe will be easily circumvented and others have criticised for being dangerously close to infringing free speech.
Australian consumer group CHOICE wrote earlier this year that “the best way to address online piracy is to improve access to legitimate content so that consumers can access it when they want to and in the format they want”. This sentiment is echoed by iiNet’s chief regulatory officer, Steve Dalby, and many others in the community.
If they are correct, and access to content is the root problem of piracy in Australia, the results from this research reveals just how poor Australians have it when it comes to availability of TV content.
Its pretty astonishing that in 2014 Australians face lengthy and uncertain delays before getting access to some of the most critically acclaimed TV shows – and not just on digital stores, but even on Foxtel, where you’re paying a significant premium.
Don’t get me wrong, this is all a very #firstworldproblem, and certainly doesn’t make piracy ‘OK’, but surely it must beg the question; is anti-piracy copyright law reform the best way to reduce piracy in Australia? Not in my opinion, and I think fellow-Reckoner, James Croft, said it best a few months ago:
Australian pollies have it backwards; Aussies don’t pirate because there’s no safeguards against piracy. Aussies pirate because global media and entertainment is a part of Australian culture now. We follow it, we talk about it and contribute back. It has become part of our daily lives.
Note: Data for this article was collated over a number of weeks and was correct as at July 15. The delay for House of Cards and Orange is the New Black is averaged because Foxtel staggered the release of episodes, whilst Netflix released all episodes instantaneously.
Update 1: As noted by Beau Giles, 24: Live Another Day was actually available on tenplay straight after the US premiere.
Update 2: Similarly, targaryens in the comments below points out that Orphan Black was available on SBS On Demand straight after the US premiere.
Update 3: Patrick Avenell on Twitter points out that Foxtel did actually make every episode of House of Cards instantly available on Foxtel Go. This is noteworthy, and good to see, but I stand by my original grading of ‘C’ for House of Cards and digital availability, simply because the primary purpose of that analysis was to see how quickly people who didn’t have/want Foxtel or didn’t want to watch adverts, could legitimately purchase the content.
Update 4: In case you were curious about which shows aired on Foxtel vs FTA, and what the split was, the following chart may be of interest. Whilst this was a survey of just 31 shows, it was the 31 best shows that premiered in the first six months of 2014, so its interesting to see where they ended up. Just remember this data is from about two weeks ago when I completed my research, announcements may have been made since.