MaHB / TV: The Times They Are a-Changin’

Esquire Malaysia, September 2015

Netflix-House of Cards
Image: The Netflix original series ‘House of Cards’ has been hugely successful with both critics and audiences

The Times They Are a-Changin’
With on-demand streaming services on the rise, will we pay for television the way we already do for music?

By Sophia Goh

Let’s be honest: for too many of us, piracy is a way of life. Not the type that involves a vessel on the high seas, but that requires a computer, a suitably high-speed Internet connection and a healthy appetite for music, movies and TV shows. But – and yes, there is a “but”. The proliferation of online music streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal being three among many) over the past year has altered the landscape of music distribution, and I can’t help but wonder if change is also on the horizon for television.

The surprising thing about music streaming isn’t just that these services have been widely embraced, it is how even their paid subscription models have gained popularity among music fans. For example, Spotify currently has more than 75 million active users worldwide, including over 20 million paying subscribers. It seems people have gotten used to paying for music – albeit minimal amounts – where, before, they would have simply (illegally) downloaded whatever they wanted.

In the same way, online television streaming services have also mushroomed in recent times, with Netflix being the king of the proverbial hill, at least internationally – as of April 2015, it had 62 million subscribers worldwide. The company hopes to make its debut in Asia later this year in Japan, with plans to go worldwide by the end of 2016, but in the meantime, those looking to try a similar service should check out iflix.

Currently available in Malaysia and the Philippines, with plans to launch in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam soon, iflix is perhaps the first real test of whether or not download-happy Malaysians can, and will, move towards piracy-free television viewing. At RM10 per month, it is very affordable, although there is one small “inconvenience”: current seasons of US TV shows are not included, and will only become available when the seasons are finished in the US. Having accidentally found out the shocking ending of the latest season of Game of Thrones on my Facebook feed, I can understand how this might be an issue for some. Side note: I am also never speaking to that particular friend again.

Television streaming services aren’t perfect, but this is a good start. As the music industry scrambles to keep up with technology and changing consumer habits before their outdated business models become the death of them, so, too, should television. And, as music streaming services have shown, access and affordability are the keys to locking up piracy. Give viewers what they want at a reasonable price and they will gladly accept it. Downloading can sometimes be a pain anyway.

In June this year, the Australian senate passed a landmark anti-piracy law that allows rights holders of music, films and TV shows to go to court in an effort to get piracy facilitating websites (such as The Pirate Bay and KickAssTorrents) blocked. The controversial bill is not without its flaws, but it’s a sign that the government is taking piracy seriously. While I don’t see that happening in Malaysia anytime soon – we have far more pressing issues at hand, quite frankly – it’s a development worth noting. Times are changing, my fellow TV addicts, are we ready for it?