How to solve a problem like Netflix, and other movie streaming services

Jordan O'Brien
August 9, 2013

Here in the UK if you want to stream your movies and TV shows, you have plenty of services to choose from — Netflix, LOVEFiLM, Now TV and Blinkbox.

They all offer different experiences, whether it comes to the underlying technology that powers them or the content they offer.

Yesterday I saw that Netflix is now offering the first Hobbit movie, and it’s doing so exclusively. That’s great — for Netflix customers.

Now TV also offers loads of exclusives, typically getting the latest and greatest films before anyone else. Again, this is great — for Now TV customers.

What happens when you’re a subscriber to Netflix and can’t afford to also subscribe to Now TV, LOVEFiLM and Blinkbox — services which offer a very different collection to Netflix.

In music streaming Spotify is the giant of the industry, and whilst it does have some exclusives, the majority of music is available on Rdio, Deezer and other services — meaning the services are being judged on the thing that should matter the most, their service.

Of course content does matter, but if we had a level playing field, that wouldn’t just be beneficial for the consumer but would be beneficial for competition.

Netflix is a great service, with apps on pretty much all platforms — so surely that should be enough of a reason to join? But of course if you care about your latest movies, then you might be stuck with Now TV.

Why do we have to exclusivity deals in movie streaming when we could quite easily go down the music route, and make content available to all providers.

Blinkbox offers a very different service to the others, giving you access to movies that you might only want to stream once or as many times as you want, without having to pay a subscription fee.

This kind of PAYG-type streaming service should have as much content as you would find on other services like iTunes and Amazon Film, but sadly it doesn’t work that way.

Competition is severely harmed by companies trying to outspend each other for exclusive content. And the movie studios are no better, by being willing to sign exclusive deals for whoever has the fattest wad of cash, rather than being pro-consumer.

Piracy is still rife within the film and TV industry, with Game of Thrones being the most pirated TV show ever, and Oblivion being the most pirated movie of this week (according to TorrentFreak).

When compared to music piracy, there has been a major downwards trend — with an NPD report claiming that music sharing declined some 17 percent in 2012 when compared to 2011’s figures.

That might not sound like much, but in 2005 33 million people were using file sharing sites to access their music, as opposed to just 21 million people last year.

This is simply because it has become a lot easier to get music online for little or no cost with services Spotify, Pandora, Nokia Music and Rdio making consumers lives a whole lot easier.

I was honoured to try out a Swedish service called Voddler when it first launched. Voddler’s aim was to bring free ad-supported movie streaming to the masses- — and it worked.

Just the other day I was using the service to watch the original Star Trek movie, and I paid absolutely nothing — it was great.

Now I could have quite have easily gone and downloaded this film for a price, but that would have required me to wait for a download. I could have also gone and bought a subscription package for Netflix or LOVEFiLM, but quite often you can’t check if they have the content you want. Blinkbox was also an option, but £2.49 was a little steep for my liking.

So I had a choice, have it completely free on a piracy site or use Voddler. I chose Voddler — it’s legal and it’s free.

Now whilst Voddler has changed quite significantly in recent years, with offers to rent or buy, you can still find quite a few films available for free — which are perfect if you just want to kill time by watching a film.

The service is currently only available in Nordic area, with a planned rollout to the rest of the world once licensing agreements have been signed.

If movie and TV studios started becoming pro-consumer and opened their eyes to the long-term rather than the short-term — then maybe a real dent could be made in piracy.

Update: The guys from Voddler have been in touch with a few little corrections:  

 We are in fact available across the world now, including the UK.     The studio delivered content varies by country, where the UK for instance has very little (yet) from our professional content partners.   But in the UK, you can still use our other features: the upload-as-much-as- you-want to your personal space on Voddler, and also the ViewShare-feature, where the movies you have uploaded, you can invite friends to view.   We call this your ViewShare Family and it has a cap on it, so we are not talking about sharing content publicly ‘ instead, we seek to mimic the behavior that is already established, where you invite friends to watch films you own.  Offline, you do this with a DVD in your living room.   Online, you can now do it with Voddler ViewShare.

In terms of the company’s absence from the iOS App Store, it had this to say:  

We’re slowly migrating away from using apps in favor of HTML5-based streaming, i.e. using the device’s browser, regardless of what device.   We’ve already closed down our iPhone/iPad-app   and ask our iOS-users to surf to  instead.   Android and Windows Phone-users will be asked to do the same soon

So there you have it, exciting times ahead for the team at Voddler — and keep it locked to What Mobile as we’ll have all the details on what’s next for the Swedish service.

About the Author

Jordan O'Brien

Technology Journalist with an unhealthy obsession with trains and American TV. Attempts satire far too often. (+44) 020 7324 3502

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