When Netflix finally flickered to life across screens Australia-wide, everything changed. Suddenly, we had access to movies and TV shows right there on our PCs, tablets and phones. In the intervening years, two competitors have rose to take it on: Stan and Foxtel Now. The battlefield is every couch around Australia, the weapons are Great Content, Aussie Dramas and Sports. What is the best streaming service in Australia and what's right for you?
Will you Netflix and Chill? Foxtel Now and Slow Down? ...Stan and Lounge Around? Let's find out.
First, the most important thing for many: How many clams you'll have to hand over.
Both Stan and Netflix offer a three-tier, three-price system with slight differences in quality and concurrent streams whereas Foxtel Now packages up their content in an entirely different way.
On the other hand, Foxtel Now allows you to choose between five starter packs which cost $10 or $15 and two optional extras packs - Sport for $29 and Movies for $20. It's a different system altogether, but I can't see how we could say Foxtel Now provides the best value, considering the huge attractions - Sports and Movies - are locked behind expensive paywalls, while the big tentpole shows (Westworld, Game of Thrones etc.) are in a $15 a month pack. With Foxtel Now, only two concurrent streams are allowed.
To standardise - we've only compared the dual screen, regular HD offerings in the table below. In Netflix and Stan's case, they offer a Premium packages that also enable 4K streaming (and four concurrent streams). For Netflix, this costs $17.99/month, for Stan, it's $15/month.
The full breakdown is here:
|Price||$12||$13.99||Varies (starts at $10)|
|Free Trial||30 days||1 Month||2 weeks|
|Device Support||Apple TV, Telstra TV, Fetch TV, Chromecast, PS4, XB1||Apple TV, Telstra TV, Fetch TV, Foxtel Now Box, Chromecast, PS4, XB1||Apple TV, Telstra TV, Foxtel Now Box, Chromecast, PS4, XB1|
Stan just wins out here. They're the cheapest on demand service of the three for multiple screens. Foxtel Now comes in a close second - but the content offering varies so significantly depending on the price you pay that it's hard to get a good feel for it's value.
There are a lot of similarities between Netflix and Stan, with rectangular tiles the focus on both services' homepage. They're so similar that it's hard to separate them in a general use sense, but Netflix wins out because of their range of hidden tips and tricks that can give you a much more refined list of choices. They also have a simple 'like'/'don't like' system and — based on the sampling of their algorithm — provide pretty consistent recommendations.
I'm not blown away by Stan, which locks their content behind the scroll wheel instead of just putting it in the tool bar or the way that they group shows into categories like "Watch. Rinse. Repeat." or "Every. Episode. Ever." Those aren't particularly conducive to finding things you want to watch, though I appreciate they can tick a few boxes with those kind of groupings. Stan's search function also gives me a lot of grief on desktop, whereas Netflix just goes BANG.
One cool thing that Stan does is let you punch in a code online when you want to register and watch on a new device. For someone like me - who uses their PS4 and PS3 to stream - this makes signing in a breeze, rather than punching in a lengthy password. A small touch, but one I enjoy.
We haven't mentioned Foxtel Now yet? Oh right, uh... Well they do have those same rectangular tiles that every streaming service adopts. On desktop, they separate their content out into TV Shows, Movies, Sport and also separate by Channels. It's not bad — it's pretty much a streaming industry standard to showcase content like this — it just looks a little dated in comparison. Functionally, it's pretty easy to find what you're after - but for finding new things? Almost redundant.
A lot of similarities across the board but Netflix provides the easiest and most comprehensive way to search for content and, importantly, discover new things.
The two 'local' players in the game - Stan and Foxtel Now - both have a stash of Aussie content with Stan championing original shows like Wolf Creek, Romper Stomper and The Other Guy. They also promote Australian stand up specials. Big tick.
Foxtel Now has a range of locally produced content that you can find on their On Demand service back catalog and bigger productions like Wentworth, the recently-released Picnic At Hanging Rock, Gogglebox, Great Australian Bake Off and a host of lifestyle productions.
Foxtel Now operates more like a commercial free-to-air channel mixed with an on demand service than a dedicated streaming site like Stan or Netflix, so it has a lot more traditional Aussie programming, too. Where your allegiances lie here will likely depend on the type of 'TV' you like to stream - Foxtel certainly have the lifestyle section covered, whereas Stan are more about original Australian dramas.
If Stan wasn't the winner in this category we'd be lying. They've shown a strong commitment to producing and distributing original Aussie content and, for the most part, it has been received well. With pockets far more shallow than the big N or Foxtel, they're clearly on top. Worth nothing in this section that streaming services like iView and Channel 7, 9 and 10s services obviously have a great selection of Australian content, if that's what you're after.
Looking across Netflix-only content, it's hard to go past them. Some of their Originals have become a part of the Best Shows Ever conversations, kicked off by their first forays into the space with House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black. A slew of Marvel-based productions kicked their programming up a notch and then you've got the new stuff filtering in from even further locations - The Rain being a good example of that. They even somehow snagged Annihilation in Australia, instead of a cinema release.
Their Originals make Stan look pretty sad in comparison — but, as of writing, Australian content isn't filtering through. Hopefully that changes in the future. It's one area where Netflix can improve, down under, should they want to.
Foxtel don't necessarily have "originals" but they do hold the rights to a lot of important shows and get first crack at anything that HBO does. HBO casts a long Jon-Snow-shaped shadow, too, with both Game of Thrones and Westworld airing on Foxtel Now. Arguably two of the biggest TV shows in the world, it's hard to argue against the strategy. They also have rights to the AFL, NRL, Cricket, Basketball... the list is long. We have to talk about Live Sports Programming in here too and, right now, Netflix and Stan cannot compete there.
We mentioned some of Stan's programming above, with a focus on the Australian side of things but Stan-only content? They've got access to Showtime, so you can see some great TV such as Billions, Twin Peaks and classics like The Tudors and Dexter. Outside of that, their list of premiere series is pretty long, but it doesn't come close to matching Netflix.
Not a clear victory for Netflix, who have been around the longest and sleep on beds of dollar bills. That fact does translate to some great original content but Foxtel Now has the big buying power. Their sports packages and the biggest shows in the world mean there's legitimate reason to get in, depending on your tastes. We've chalked it up as a tie.
One of the more interest aspects of all these streaming services is the fact that Netflix has such a large and varied content library based on the fact that it is a global brand. Foxtel Now can't be used outside of Australia, unfortunately, and Stan is Australia-only too - so what you see is what you get. However, as we've noted many times before, other Netflix libraries can be accessed via VPN and these can give you access to a ton more content that is usually geoblocked.
However, Stan does allow you to download TV shows and store them on your device for a set period of time. Once you've started watching something, it has an expiry time limit - so you have to watch it in the allotted time - but this could get around those situations where you want to travel and binge a show on the plane. Netflix offers a similar service, but with access the world over, it's less useful unless you're using it for those long haul flights.
Foxtel Now, you're dead to us. Sadly, their service does not allow use outside of Australia or downloads.
Of course, if you're savvy enough to be using a VPN to access different Netflix regions, you're likely also savvy enough to use it to access Australia-only content. Make of that what you will.
As the only service here that works while you're travelling without any issues — and the fact you can access those international libraries if you're savvy enough — puts Netflix at the top of the pile.
The Amazon In The Room
Amazon Prime shuffles awkwardly into the circle, smiling at the other streaming services with a crooked grin that only half fills its face. Netflix makes a joke that everybody laughs at. Stan pats it on the back in that congratulate-your-mates kind of way but Netflix doesn't even notice. Amazon Prime just shuffles sideways, trying to find the right beat - the right moment - to mix its laughter in with the rest of the crowd.
The other streaming sites all stop laughing. That was the wrong time.
"Uh, hey guys, I'm Amazon Prime."
Netflix raises an eyebrow and turns away. "I'm going to get more punch", it says. Stan nods, raising its glass in one hand, saluting with its index finger. Foxtel Now brushes off its suits. Shakes hands, reluctantly.
"I'm new here" explains Amazon Prime, "but I have lots to talk about."
It begins waffling on about The Grand Tour ("It's like Top Gear!") and American Gods ("Neil Gaiman is a genius!") so it doesn't notice when Foxtel Now and Stan begin angling for an out. Stan gives a near-imperceptible side-eye to Foxtel Now, who doesn't say anything, but knows exactly what Stan is trying to pull. It pulls a cell phone out of its jacket - "oh, sorry, I have to take this" it says, wandering off.
Amazon Prime looks to Stan, armed with another info-dump. Stan's eyes go searching... searching...
There. An out.
"Ohhh! 9Now is here!" it exclaims. "Sorry, Amazon Prime, it's just been a while since we caught up. Nice to meet you." With a nod, Stan briskly trots off.
Amazon Prime smiles and waves as Stan takes off. "I didn't even get to tell them I'm only $2.99USD a month. I'm the cheapest there is. I didn't even get to tell them about Goliath or Sneaky Pete."
Then it muttered "I have downloads too... I'm user friendly! How dare they!"
And on that day, Amazon Prime vowed that it would show them all - Stan, Foxtel Now, Netflix. Amazon Prime vowed it would take over the world.
[To Be Continued]
Sadly, Foxtel Now couldn't register an outright win in any single category but there are some very valid reasons that it should still be considered in the final verdict. For one: Sports. Any sports nut is going to need to seriously think about investing the $39 a month it costs to subscribe to Foxtel Now. Somewhat frustratingly, I do. It's the only service that provides me with the ability to watch 1080p Australian sport. That's a huge drawcard. However, it's expensive, it segregates all its content into specific packs and it just looks a little outdated.
Stan, competing with the biggest streaming service the planet has ever seen, puts up an admirable fight. They're well-priced, full of great Aussie content and have a feature set not all that dissimilar from Netflix.
But the great Big Red N still takes home the streaming crown right now. Their list of Originals only gets longer, they've pretty much monopolised the streaming space and their brand has become synonymous with streaming. You don't say "Want to stream and chill?" you say "Netflix and chill". Few brands get to that level of recognition. Their superior content offering, excellent UI, advanced algorithms and embedment within the cultural zeitgeist solidifies them as the Australian Streaming Champion.