Tuesday 19 January 2010

Caught in the stone age - Australia too

I'd wept a couple months ago seeing the gap between the US and NZ widening.

Josh Gans is on sabbatical at Harvard and is having the same experience:
In Australia, TV is dictated at the behest of four networks and one cable provider. There is nothing reliable on the internet and paid for services like iTunes are crippled. In contrast, in the US, I subscribe to a single provider, Comcast, for all television, internet and phone requirements at the home. The television comes over a DVR that runs Tivo and so can be programmed from anywhere. But who cares about programming? They actually have an ‘On demand’ service that has all of the main programs you may have missed. And, of course, all of this is in real 1080i HD. And you can use the same service to watch and pay for new release movies so we don’t even own a DVD (that technology lasted less than a decade in our household).

But wait, there’s more. Not satisfied with that and you can watch much of the stuff online anyway. Hulu is a well designed service that really works. Of course, you can’t skip through ads but who cares. There is just one per break and they tell you how long it will last! And add to that that I face no download caps and you have all you want. (Oh yes, if you think I am stuck with US programming and that is a minus — not from my perspective but others might think so — then think again. I got to see Doctor Who the day it aired in the UK.)

Finally, the phone on top of this costs pretty much nothing. I can call anywhere in the US and Canada for the cost of a local call — which turns out to be $0 per minute. The voice mail is accessible online so I don’t have to be at home to pick up. In any case, I use Google Voice which calls all my phones and so I don’t really have to be worried about receiving calls at home. In any case, if I’m watching TV and there is a call it will tell me who is calling on the TV. Now that is a benefit of an integrated communications service.

Australia puts up with continual crap on this front. None of the technology here is monopolised and non-transferable to Australia. I fear we will get a shiny new NBN with none of this and wonder why consumers don’t want to pay much to use it. It is like strapping a jet engine on to a horse buggy. Our persistent lagging on this suggests that we need government review to understand what is holding Australia back. At the moment, I don’t want to come home.
I still say it's mostly a problem of fixed costs. Getting the rights to air each separate item in the Hulu library outside of the US? Fixed cost. Getting the rights to distribute movies outside the US (for Netflix)? Fixed cost. Population in NZ isn't high enough to justify it; apparently it isn't for Australia either.


  1. I felt the same when I moved to NZ from the UK - going from real competition, 50mb 1080i HD cable with TVOD services, versus 24mb ADSL2 and Sky 1080i with the same kind of TVOD to Freeview with, yes, a selection of PVRs to... well, Telstra's TV offering is crap and the only reason we have decent internet is because one of us works for Telecom. I can't tell you the number of times I've been watching EPL and I've cursed there being no 'red button' service for replays, or I've missed something and it's not on replay.

    I think one positive thing could be achieved from the BBC - as owner/distributor with BBC World - and that's making iPlayer available overseas. Apparently it's on the cards, but it'll take a while.

  2. Ah ha! Do I have a deal for you! The Govts thinking about spending $1.5 billion clams to stimulate the deployment of fibre-optic cable to the home. And the main benefit for most residential users is the ability to access up to 15 high def channels over the net.

    (http://www.med.govt.nz/upload/63958/Final-broadband-initiative-consultation-document.pdf on page 37)

  3. The TiVO offering here looks...too depressing to consider.

    I see little reason why the government ought to be subsidizing home entertainment options. There's worse stuff they could do with the money, sure. But surely they can do better.

    I suppose you could build a model with high fixed costs for building proper TiVO, large positive externalities from having externally mobile folks deciding to stay in NZ, and locational decisions for the latter highly dependent on availability of decent home broadband and TiVO. Dunno that I'd buy it though.