I’m a big lover of Steam. Whilst it had a rather rocky start, something that was exacerbated by the fact that I was still on dial up, since then the platform has managed to make me part with many of my dollars and I have done so gladly. Sure part of this is due to me moving up in the world, no longer being a poor uni student whose only indulgence was his World of Warcraft subscription, however Steam providing titles at a very reasonable price has also led me to spend more than I would have otherwise. So when rumours start to spread that Steam might be bringing things like music, TV shows and movies to the platform you can imagine the excitement I have at that prospect.
There’s been talk of Steam expanding beyond it’s current games and software market for some time now, ever since Valve announced the Steam Music overlay at the beginning of this year. There’s also already a few movies on the platform, like Free to Play and Indie Game: The Movie, and whilst they’re specifically about games it’s not much of a stretch to think that they’d extend the platform further. The only precedent not set so far is for TV shows however it’s not much of a stretch to see the same system working for that kind of content. There’s still a few questions to be answered about the service (When will it debut? How will its costs compare to other services? ) however if Steam can do for what it did for games for movies, TV and music you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be an incredibly positive thing for consumers.
The reason, for me as an Australia at least, is that there’s really no other alternative available to us. I was excited when Dendy Direct was announced, mostly because I’m a fan of their cinemas, however their pricing is nothing short of insane with a single season of a show costing anywhere from $20 to $40. Other services available here are either similarly priced or simply don’t have the catalogue of shows that many of us want to watch. Even if the services available here do have the shows they’re either significantly delayed or released in such a way that’s incongruent to the way they were released overseas, like Netflix original series being released weekly instead of all in one hit.
There’s always the geo-unblocking tools to get us Netflix of course but that’s really only a stopgap to a better solution.
We’re getting closer to a proper solution though as there’s been at least one notable entrant into this field that’s not completely bullshit. AnimeLab, run by Madman (the Australian anime distributor), offers up complete anime series for any and all to watch for free, including ones that are only just being released in Japan. Whilst I’m sure the free ride won’t last forever it does show that there’s demand for such a service in Australia, even within the niche interest area that is anime. I’m hopeful that this will encourage other services to start considering branching out into Australia sooner rather than later as it honestly can’t come fast enough.
Australia is an incredibly strong country economically being ranked as the 12th largest by GDP of all countries in the world. When you then consider that our population is a fraction of that of many countries that are above us (Canada is the closest in size and is in 11th spot with a population about 50% bigger than ours) it means that, on average, Australians are more wealthy than their global counterparts. This is somewhat reflected in the price we pay for certain things however it doesn’t take a lot of effort to show that we pay more than you’d expect for many goods and services. The most notable being media as we lack any of the revolutionary services that drive their prices down (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) or any viable alternatives. It gets even worse though as it seems we also pay more just to go to the cinema.
The graphic above shows that Australia, along with a few other developed nations, pay an extraordinary amount more than others do when the costs are normalized. The differences between the lowest and the highest aren’t exactly huge, you’re looking at a spread of about $15 from the cheapest to the most expensive, however this is yet another indication of just how much more Australia pays for its media than anyone else does. In essence we’re paying something on the order of 25%~50% more for the same product yet the excuses that the industry once relied on, that Australia is “really far away”, don’t really hold water anymore.
It should come as little surprise then that Australians are then far more likely to pirate than any other developed country, sometimes representing up to almost 20% of new release piracy. There have been some inroads made into attempting to reduce this number, with a few stations “fast-tracking” episodes (although they still usually carry a delay) or giving users access to an online option, however the former doesn’t solve the problem entirely and the latter was unfortunately repealed. The hunger for the media is there it’s just that a reasonably priced option has failed to materialize for Australian users (and if you mention Quickflix I’ll gut you) which has led to these dramatic figures.
Now I’d be entirely happy with doing the slightly dodgy and getting myself a Netflix or Hulu account via a VPN or geo-unblocking service however my bandwidth isn’t up to the task of streaming media at 720p. Sure it could probably do a lower resolution but I didn’t invest as much as I did in my entire home theatre system to have it operate at a sub-par level. This issue was supposed to go away with the NBN being just around the corner but I literally have no idea when that might be coming nor what incarnation of it I will end up getting. So it seems that, at least for now, I’m stuck in digital limbo where I either fall to piracy or being gouged repeatedly.
Neither of these issues are beyond fixing and indeed it’s been shown that once a reasonably priced alternative becomes available people ditch piracy in a heartbeat. Heck I know that for me once Steam became widely available my game spend increased dramatically, especially after I found sites like DLcompare. I can assure you that the same will happen once a media based alternative comes to Australia and I’m not the only one who has the disposable income to support it.