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Streaming services: get the full story

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Our appetite for subscription video on demand (SVOD) services—commonly known as ‘streaming’—is growing exponentially. At August 2016, over 5.5 million Australians had subscribed to SVOD services.

To help you make informed choices about your SVOD service, we’ve published this short guide, full of helpful tips and general information about SVOD services in Australia. Click on one of the links below to go straight to a particular topic:

What are SVOD services?

SVOD services give you access to a wide range of programs like TV shows, documentaries and movies over your existing internet connection (an ‘over-the-top’ or OTT service). You’re charged a flat monthly fee, which is typically around $10 to $20.

You have full control over when to start, pause, fast-forward, rewind and stop programs. Content is updated regularly and isn’t subject to a fixed programming schedule.

Who offers SVOD services in Australia?

As of June 2015, there were four main SVOD service providers operating in Australia:

  • Quickflix—launched in October 2011
  • Presto—launched in March 2014
  • Stan—launched in January 2015
  • Netflix—launched in March 2015.

What internet-enabled devices can I use to access SVOD services?

You can potentially use many different types of internet-enabled devices to access SVOD services. SVOD providers generally have a list on their websites of ‘compatible devices’ you can use to access their particular services. These typically include:

  • desktop computers (for example, PC, Mac) and laptops
  • smartphones (for example, iPhone)
  • tablets (for example, iPad)
  • game consoles
  • streaming media players (for example, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku)
  • smart televisions
  • Blu-ray players
  • set-top boxes (for example, Telstra’s T-Box, Fetch TV box).

Compatible devices may vary between SVOD providers and may be updated as newer devices are released. Be sure to check out your preferred SVOD provider’s website to see if it has a current listing of compatible devices.

What’s the difference between SD, HD and ultra HD content?

The main difference between standard definition (SD), high definition (HD) and ultra HD content is the resolution (picture quality) of the video. Resolution relates to the maximum number of distinct pixels (the smallest point or dot of colour) that display in a video image.

The table below sets out the main differences between SD, HD and ultra HD content:

Content quality

Commonly referred to as

Resolution (width by height)

Total pixels displayed  

Video quality level

Ultra high definition (ultra HD)

4K

3,840 x 2,160

8,294,400

Best

Full high definition (full HD)

1,080p

1,920 x 1,080

2,073,600

Better

High definition (HD)

720p

1,280 x 720

921,600

Good

Standard definition (SD)

480p

640 x 480

307,200

Average

Basically, the better the resolution, the more pixels displayed and the better your overall video quality. But also remember that the better the video quality, the more data you’re likely to use against your monthly download quota (data allowance). So, if you want to stream in HD or ultra HD, check if your internet plan has a sufficient monthly quota and your broadband plan is fast enough. To make the most of ultra HD video quality, you should also use an ultra HD-capable television or display device.

For more information on minimum broadband speeds for SVOD services, see Does the type of internet access I have affect my SVOD service?

While some internet service providers offer quota-free streaming for certain SVOD providers, don’t confuse this with a free (trial) subscription to a SVOD service. During free trials, the standard monthly SVOD subscription fee is waived for a limited period (for example, 30 days), but your streaming still counts towards your monthly quota.

How can I compare different SVOD providers?

To help you decide which SVOD provider is best for you, the following table sets out the main factors to consider:

Factor

Comment

Key content

The key content offered by SVOD providers includes popular TV shows, documentaries and movies. Content is updated regularly and varies between providers (due to some having exclusive streaming rights to certain content).



Tip: If you’re after specific (or popular) films or TV shows, be sure to check out the key content offered by the various SVOD providers.

Total library titles

A SVOD provider may promote the total number of titles (different films and TV shows) in its library. Remember that as some SVOD providers operate globally, library sizes may differ according to your location—so what’s available in Australia may vary from what’s offered in other countries.



Tip: If you watch a lot of movies or TV shows, be sure to check the total number of titles each SVOD provider has in its library collection.

Compatible devices and registered devices

A SVOD provider typically has a list of compatible devices on its website that can be used to access its SVOD services.



Once you’ve identified your compatible devices, the provider will require you to register a maximum number of these for use with your SVOD account. Once registered, these become known as ‘registered devices’ and you can use them to watch SVOD content.



Most SVOD providers allow you to subsequently change the devices registered with your account (but still not exceeding the maximum number). However, monthly limits on the number of times you can change registered devices may apply.



For example, you may have four compatible devices (a smart TV, iPad, iPhone and laptop), but a maximum of three of these can be registered for use with your SVOD account. Your SVOD provider allows one registered device change per month. You decide to register the smart TV, iPad and iPhone. However, because you aren’t using your iPhone for viewing SVOD content as much as expected, in your second month of using your SVOD service you decide to de-register your iPhone and register your laptop instead.



Tip: Before subscribing to a SVOD provider, be sure to check its list of compatible devices, how many of these can be registered against your account and the limitations on changing these later on.

Simultaneous streams

A SVOD provider typically allows a maximum number of ‘simultaneous streams’ to be watched on your registered devices. That is, the maximum number of registered devices you can use to watch streamed content on at the same time can be limited (regardless of whether the streamed content is the same on each device).



For example, you may have three devices registered with your SVOD account, but the SVOD provider only allows simultaneous streaming on a maximum of two. This means you can watch streamed content on one or two of your registered devices at the same time.



Tip: Before subscribing to a SVOD provider, be sure to check the maximum number of registered devices on which you can watch streamed content at the same time.

Pricing

SVOD providers have adopted various pricing models, which can make it difficult to compare pricing. However, the following is a general guide on the different pricing models you may come across:



Flat rate—gives you access to movies and TV shows for a fixed price each month. However, the SVOD provider may impose limitations such as the number of devices you can register with your SVOD account, how often you can change them or the number of simultaneous streams you can access.

Some SVOD providers also allow you to buy premium movies and TV shows for a charge (which is in addition to the flat rate per month).



Tiered pricing—enables you to choose from a number of different packages, each with a different flat rate per month. To keep things simple, SVOD providers rarely offer more than three different package types.



Each package is charged at a flat rate per month and differs based on what’s included. For example, packages could be differentiated by:

  • content type (TV shows only, movies only or TV shows and movies)
  • picture quality (SD, HD or ultra HD)
  • number of simultaneous streams allowed (see previous section).

Bundled pricing—some internet service providers have partnered with SVOD providers to offer bundled services, typically for a set price per month. For example, a bundle may include broadband internet, mobile, fixed-line and a SVOD service. Under this arrangement, the pricing of the SVOD component of the bundle may not be separately identifiable.



And remember that internet access charges may be in addition to charges you incur for the SVOD service.



Tip: Make sure you understand the applicable pricing structure—and your total monthly cost—before you subscribe to a SVOD service. This is important as you may have to pay this cost as well as the cost of your monthly internet data charges. If you buy a SVOD service as part of a bundle with an internet service, be sure to review your internet service provider’s critical information summary.

Unmetered data

Some SVOD providers have arrangements in place whereby customers of certain internet service providers (or customers on certain plans) receive unmetered data (that is, the data used for the SVOD service is not counted against their monthly internet data allowance).



Tip: Be sure to check if your preferred SVOD provider has an unmetered data arrangement in place with your internet service provider. This could make a big difference to your monthly internet data allowance or your monthly bill. Also, if you’re taking advantage of a free SVOD trial, be sure to check whether an unmetered data arrangement is in place.


Does the type of internet access I have affect my SVOD service?

Yes. Before subscribing to a SVOD service, you should consider two main factors:

1. Whether your internet download speed is fast enough to watch SVOD content at the desired quality level

Your download speed is likely to be measured in megabits per second (Mbps), which refers to the rate at which data is transferred. Don’t confuse this with megabytes (MBs), which is commonly used to measure the amount of data transferred.

For example, a common type of broadband product offered in Australia is ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line), which typically offers maximum potential download speeds of 8 Mbps, while ADSL2+ offers maximum potential download speeds of 20 Mbps.

Be aware that the maximum potential download speeds for ADSL and ADSL2+ can be quite different from the actual (slower) speeds you’re likely to experience day to day. This is because a number of factors affect your ADSL download (and upload) speeds, including:

  • the time of day and number of people using the broadband network in your area—your broadband speed is likely to be slower at evening peak times
  • the distance to your nearest telephone exchange—the further away you are from the exchange, the slower your broadband speed is likely to be
  • your broadband gateway (router) and any software installed on your registered device(s)—the performance of your broadband gateway may affect your broadband speed.

These factors may not affect other broadband types available (for example, mobile, fixed-wireless, cable or optical fibre broadband).

For further information about internet speeds, check out the consumer fact sheet on broadband speeds from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

If you want to check your broadband speed, be sure to do this at the time(s) of day you’re most likely to be viewing SVOD content. This will give you a better idea of the actual download speeds you can expect. There are a number of commercial websites available that’ll run a speed test and give you an estimate of your upload and download speeds. The Department of Communications website also has a tool that enables you to perform a speed test.

In general, the faster your internet speed, the better your video quality. The table below sets out the minimum and recommended internet download speeds according to the main SVOD providers (as at June 2015):

Broadband speed and video quality Netflix Stan Presto Quickflix

Minimum broadband speed required

0.5 Mbps

1.5 Mbps

0.5 Mbps

0.5 Mbps

Recommended broadband speed

1.5 Mbps

N/A

1.5 Mbps

1.5 Mbps

Standard definition

3.0 Mbps

2.5 Mbps

3.0 Mbps

3.0 Mbps

High definition (720p)

5.0 Mbps

3.5 Mbps

5.0 Mbps

5.0 Mbps

High definition (1,080p)

N/A

6.5 Mbps

7.5 Mbps

N/A

Ultra high definition (4k)

25 Mbps

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A: Not available

SVOD providers may also offer an ‘auto’ setting that you can choose. This setting automatically adjusts the content quality to your current broadband speed. For example, if others in your home are using the internet connection, the quality of your streamed content may decrease, but you’ll still be able to watch and enjoy the SVOD content.

2. Whether your monthly internet data quota is sufficient

A SVOD service can quickly use up your monthly quota (data allowance, typically measured in megabytes (MBs) or gigabytes (GBs)). If you don’t have an unlimited broadband service, make sure you know what your monthly quota is to avoid bill shock or your internet service provider temporarily ‘throttling’ (slowing down) your broadband service (after you reach your monthly quota). The treatment of excess data usage (downloads in excess of your monthly quota) varies by internet service provider, so make sure you understand how your broadband account operates.

Under the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code (C628:2012), if you have an included data allowance, your internet service provider is required to send you usage notification alerts at 50, 85 and 100 per cent of your included data allowance. Of course, if you have an ‘unlimited’ internet data plan (which may be subject to a ‘fair use’ policy) then this shouldn’t be an issue.

If you have a capped monthly data quota, it’s important to remember:

  • the more simultaneous streams you have running (regardless of whether the same content is being streamed to each device), the quicker you’ll use up your monthly quota—for example, two simultaneous streams would use twice as much data as a single stream, three simultaneous streams would use three times as much and so on
  • the faster the broadband plan (for example, cable, optical fibre or ADSL2+) you use to watch SVOD services, the more content you’re likely to watch, and the quicker you’ll use up your monthly quota
  • the more high definition or ultra high definition SVOD content you watch, the quicker you’ll use up your monthly quota. The following table shows the typical data usage rates (by desired video quality level) for each SVOD provider (at June 2015):

Video quality

Netflix

Stan

Presto

Quickflix

Low

0.3 GB per hour

0.57 GB per hour

0.2 GB per hour

N/A

Standard definition

0.7 GB per hour

1.13 GB per hour

0.9 GB per hour

1.5 GB per hour

High definition

3.0 GB per hour

2.89 GB per hour

2.9 GB per hour

2.5 GB per hour

Ultra high definition (4k)

7.0 GB per hour

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A: Not applicable

You may also consider using an internet service provider that has partnered with an SVOD provider offering unmetered (so it’s not counted against your monthly quota) SVOD content or changing to an unlimited data plan.

What is buffering?

Buffering allows streaming to occur without you having to download the entire content of a movie (or TV show) before viewing it. When you click play, the first five to 10 seconds of content will be downloaded and stored in a temporary memory cache (called a ‘buffer’) on your device.

Most SVOD providers use buffering to delay playback until a reasonable amount of content has been downloaded, which avoids ‘lag’ (a noticeable decrease in application speed) from occurring when you watch streamed content. A simple way to reduce buffering is to pause your content once it has begun playing, and wait for a few seconds to allow more of the content to be downloaded before you start watching it.

If buffering frequently happens to you, this may be due to a problem with your router or your internet connection is too slow to stream content in real time. For more information on minimum broadband speeds for SVOD services, see Does the type of internet access I have affect my SVOD service?

What is captioning and is it available on SVOD services?

Captioning presents the audio component of audiovisual content as text on screen; this includes sound effects as well as the spoken word. Captions are generally intended to help viewers with a hearing impairment. When captions appear with dialogue, the colour of the text or where it appears on the screen shows who’s speaking.

If a TV show or movie offered by a SVOD provider is captioned, this will be indicated by a CC icon. However, not all TV shows or movies support captioning.

Closed Captioning jpg 

If captioning is important to you, check whether it is supported by your preferred SVOD provider and, if so, ask how to turn it on for your registered device(s).

What is a parental lock and is it available on SVOD services?

A parental lock is a feature that protects children from accessing inappropriate content. It allows controlled access to programs based on their classification type—Children (C), Pre-school Children (P), General (G), Parental Guidance Recommended (PG), Mature (M), Mature Adult (MA) and Adult Violent (AV).

For instructions on how to set up parental controls, check the help or support pages of your preferred SVOD provider’s website.

What are my rights when using SVOD services?

Consumer rights

The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) aims to protect consumers and ensure fair trading in Australia.

Under the ACL, certain consumer guarantees apply to services bought after 1 January 2011 and up to the value of $40,000, which includes SVOD services. A SVOD provider must meet the consumer guarantees—if it fails to do so, you’ll have rights against the SVOD provider (who’ll have to provide a remedy). These guarantees require the service to be:

  • provided with due care and skill
  • fit for a particular purpose
  • provided within a reasonable time (when no time is set).

For further information about the ACL, see the Australian Consumer Law website.

Privacy

In Australia, privacy law generally relates to the protection of an individual’s personal information.

The Privacy Act 1998 includes 13 Australian Privacy Principles (APPs), which set out standards, rights, and obligations for the handling, holding, accessing and correction of personal information (including sensitive information) by ‘APP entities’, which is likely to include your SVOD provider.

As an individual, the Privacy Act allows you to:

  • know why your personal information is being collected, how it’ll be used and who it’ll be disclosed to
  • have the option of not identifying yourself, or of using a pseudonym in certain circumstances
  • ask for access to your personal information
  • stop receiving unwanted direct marketing
  • ask for your personal information that’s incorrect to be corrected
  • make a complaint about an entity covered by the Privacy Act, if you consider that they’ve mishandled your personal information.

A SVOD provider’s Privacy Statement explains its practices for the collection, use, disclosure and transfer of certain information, including your personal information. You’re generally required to agree to a SVOD provider’s Privacy Statement in order to use its service.

Generally speaking, most SVOD providers collect four different types of information:

Information you provide—for example, name, email address, address, payment method, telephone number or when you choose to provide reviews or ratings.

Information that is automatically collected—for example, your title selections, watch history, search queries, your interactions with customer service, device IDs and information collected via the use of cookies.

Information from your social network account(s)—if you choose to connect one or more of your social networking accounts (for example, Facebook) with your SVOD account, information may be obtained from that account.

Information from other sources—a SVOD provider may supplement the information it collects with other information, including demographic data and your internet browsing history.

In general, a SVOD provider will claim the information it collects will be used to ‘make your viewing experience better and more enjoyable’. However, it may also be used to:

  • determine your general geographic location
  • provide localised content
  • recommend movies and TV shows
  • determine your internet service provider
  • respond to your enquiries
  • prevent, detect and investigate potentially prohibited or illegal activities
  • send you emails, push notifications and promotional materials.

For further information about privacy, see the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website.

How can I make a complaint about SVOD services?

To complain about your SVOD service, in the first instance you should contact your internet service provider, who will either handle your complaint or refer you to your SVOD provider.

If you remain dissatisfied after dealing with your internet service provider, you can contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). The TIO is a fast, free and fair dispute resolution service for small business and residential consumers who have a complaint about their telephone or internet service in Australia.

The TIO may only handle certain types of SVOD-related complaints. For example, if you’ve subscribed to a SVOD service offered by your internet service provider, the TIO may handle situations where:

  • use of the SVOD service results in a prolonged slowing of your internet speeds
  • you’ve obtained the service on the basis that all SVOD-related content is to be unmetered and you subsequently discover that the content is metered
  • you’re promised an SVOD discount coupon/voucher but don’t receive it (be sure to check your junk mail folder before making a complaint)
  • you’re promised equipment to facilitate access to a SVOD service, such as a Fetch TV Generation 2 set-top box, but you don’t receive it or receive different equipment.

Where can I get further information about SVOD services?

Last updated: 12 May 2017

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