Netflix, Doctor Who and the content dilemma

JCPC3Streaming services like Netflix are lauded for their wide library and ease of use, but we’re all too happy to turn on them when we don’t get what we want.
There’s no doubt that streaming services are huge business right now. They’re disrupting traditional TV models, both free to air and traditional Pay-TV, by delivering an effectively all-you-can-eat buffet of programs for a modest monthly fee. Netflix remains king of the hill in terms of market awareness and market share, whether you’re an old hand at using a VPN or DNS service to sneak into the US catalog, or one of the many thousands of Australians who simply signed up to the service when it launched here mid last year.
The convenience of Netflix is hard to argue with. It’s relatively cheap compared to traditional Pay TV models, and it’s got clients for just about any reasonably powerful device you’d care to have in your home, be it a games console, smart TV or set top box.

Convenient, but will it always have what you want?
Convenient, but will it always have what you want?

What’s often overlooked — besides the assertion that I’ve made many times before that no one streaming service will have everything you want — is the fact that while Netflix appears to be the 21st century equivalent of your local video store, there’s one big important difference.
Unlike your by-now-probably-bankrupt local video store, Netflix doesn’t accumulate titles, but instead shifts their availability around dependent upon the licensing agreements it has with the rights holders to “its” movie and tv catalog.
See also: Video Stores: In Memoriam
New programs join Netflix Australia on a regular basis — over at finder.com.au I’ve just updated with the February additions you can plan on watching — but at the same time, older programs are removed as Netflix loses the rights to them, or chooses not to renew those rights. With increasing competition, locally here with Presto and Stan and in its US homeland with Amazon and Hulu, those rights are often snapped up by competitors, further fragmenting the market.
Comparatively, outside of tapes and discs that snapped or got sold as “ex-rentals”, your local video store tended to just accumulate content. Sure, maybe nobody rented Grizzly or Joysticks all that often, but they were there if you wanted them.

Genesis Of The Daleks Discord

What’s all this got to do with Doctor Who, I hear you ask? The latest show that Netflix has opted to not renew rights for is Doctor Who, which will depart in both its classic and new forms from the service in November.
It’s fair to say that this news didn’t please the online Whoniverse one bit. I’ve read calm news style reports and pieces that had more gnashing, wailing of teeth and screaming about cancelling subscriptions in equal measure so far.

Almost nobody burst into song, however. That’s definitely a good thing.
First of all, a bit of good news. If you’re subscribed to Netflix Australia, according to local representatives, you’re not going to be without your Who fix. The show will remain as part of the local catalog, at least for February. The downside there compared to the US offering is that (predictably) it was a smaller catalog of episodes, with only “new” Who (Christopher Ecclestone onwards) available, where US Netflix had a smattering (but very, very far from all) of classic stories available as well.
Still, even Netflix Australia is getting in on the culling game. When it first launched in Australia, I did ask representatives given the smaller catalog size of Australian programs if we’d see the same programs vanish from US and Australian catalogs simultaneously, and I was told that at that time, the focus was on building the library out for size, and nothing was initially being culled.
That’s no longer the case, although calculating the shows missing is tricky business. Twitter contacts have pointed out to me that in recent weeks Muppets Most Wanted and Captain America: The Winter Soldier have been removed from Netflix Australia, and when I inquired today about content retention policies, this was the official statement I got back from Netflix Australia:

“We are constantly curating our service to license the shows our members want to watch.”

Or in other words, if it’s there today, it might not be there tomorrow, depending on licensing rights.

That sucks! What should I do?

This isn’t entirely surprising, because while Netflix is disruptive, it’s also a business, and it’s in the business of making money. If rights are too high, or viewing figures are too low, it makes sense from their side to pursue those shows that do get good audience traction, while letting the poorer performers slip away.
An older movie or TV show rights package may come up again, and even its relative age may play a part in how much it costs in the future. Netflix is also leaning ever more heavily on its “originals” packages, many (but not all) of which it holds exclusive streaming rights to, presumably for quite some time to come.
The reality if you’re a Doctor Who fan is pretty simple. You can establish if Netflix is worth it for your money by assessing the rest of its catalog. Again, over at finder.com.au, we’ve assembled lists of the currently available TV and Movies on Netflix Australia (as well as the same movie and TV lists for Netflix US if you know how to use a VPN) so you can sort out your value equation there.
Then — and I know this may sound shocking, but it’s a solid strategy — go out and buy the Blu-Rays and DVDs of the episodes of Doctor Who that you want.
Yes, you could buy them off iTunes or Google Play if you absolutely refuse to handle physical media for some kind of Howard-Hughes-level-germaphobia reason, but you do get less rights in your media that way, because your right to view can be yanked away from you without recompense at pretty much any time, and doesn’t survive you if pass away at all.
Comparatively, your right to watch on physical digital media is assured for the life of that media. Leave it to your kids, lend it to your friends, do with it as you will. That gives you solid backing to watch them until they wear out, and it won’t matter a jot if Netflix lets the Australian rights expire and never gets them back again. Streaming is certainly convenient, but owning an actual copy gives you unlimited viewing privileges — and you don’t have to pay for the bandwidth either.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

2 thoughts on “Netflix, Doctor Who and the content dilemma

  1. Of course, buying Doctor Who as physical media also includes all of the special feautres—among the best extras ever assembled (and often specially produced) for a TV series, let alone TV from decades ago.
    While I adore Netflix, and coupled with iTunes mean I almost never buy DVDs anymore, DW is just one (rare) example of a show where physical media wins by a massive margin.

  2. Thanks for the warning! I scored the 50th anniversary ‘The Day of the Doctor’ as a 3D Blu-ray for $1 recently and watched it on LG’s 65-inch OLED. MASSSSIIVE!

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