Australians love streaming, but not when new shows screen overseas long before they air here

Source: Youtube/FX

Australian fans of award-winning Disney + series The Bear are angered at the news that the show’s much-anticipated second season will arrive locally a month after its US release.

And while most local Disney + subscribers will likely stay away from online potential plot spoilers and patiently wait for The Bear‘s Australian release, there are fears that this, and other similar delays for top shows, could be behind a resurgence in online piracy.

The Bear, produced by FX Productions, will stream from 22 June on Hulu in the US, and from 19 July on Disney+ in Australia.

Fans are heatedly questioning the delay, which is surprisingly common for international releases, even in the age of streaming.

Australians are avid streamers; an annual government report on TV habits released earlier this year found two-thirds of Australians had used a streaming service in the past seven days.

But Australia still often waits months for new movies and shows to debut locally.

While production, packaging, and shipping of DVDs and videos may have copped blame from the masses in the days of Blockbuster and Video Ezy, it turns out delays have more to do with complex – and possibly outdated – licensing models.

So why is there a delay?

Marc C-Scott, Victoria University senior lecturer in screen media, explains part of the problem could lie in the fact streaming platforms may still be using an old business model, which saw movie and TV show release dates differ based on regions.

“People would have known about DVDs, where we had region one, two, three, and four, and it was really around the licensing and getting potentially the biggest bang for buck from each of those areas around the licensing,” he said.

“Whilst it’s been removed slightly, there’s still instances where that sort of region business model is still being implemented.

“[Australia is] always seen as that smaller region. We have a smaller population, so we’re not always seen as the first place to go in some instances, in terms of distributing content.”

Dr C-Scott said there could also be several other reasons why content may arrive later to Australia, including the difference in seasons between the northern and southern hemispheres, as summer is known to be a popular season for new releases.

Some content, such as TV shows, might have broadcasting rights sold to one company, like Channel 10, and streaming rights sold to another, like Binge. Often, the broadcasting rights being held by a separate company means the content takes longer to arrive on streaming platforms.

New seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine often aired on SBS before becoming available on Netflix in Australia. Photo: Twitter

Anna Potter, University of the Sunshine Coast associate professor in communication, said you also can’t assume all streaming companies have total global rights for all the content they distribute.

A production company could hammer out multiple distribution deals for one project; for example, while Better Call Saul might be available on US Netflix, it can instead be found on Stan in Australia.

Most streaming companies, such as Netflix, are making an effort to cut out the middle man by producing their own content, while production companies like Disney and HBO also have created their own streaming platforms.

“I think it really speaks to the absolute complexity of rights arrangements now, and the monetisation of [intellectual property], and how producers and streamers work out those arrangements,” Dr Potter said.

“The industry is still in flux, we cannot make assumptions about future behaviour.

“[But] I think it’s consumers who are going to be dealing with the business model evolving around rights and re-licensing, and whether producers decide to hold on to their content for their own services, or whether they decide to try to monetise it.”

Are Australians turning to piracy?

Dr C-Scott said people might be willing to wait for certain content to become available on legal sites, but impatient fans certainly could turn to other methods in response to delayed releases.

A government survey into consumer copyright infringement, conducted between June and July in 2022, found 39 per cent of Australians had consumed at least some digital content through illegal methods in the three months prior.

This figure is up from 30 per cent in 2021, despite a significant drop in unlawful consumption of online content since 2015, when streaming platforms like Netflix were first introduced to the country.

People more likely to access content unlawfully were found to be male, younger, working full-time or studying, and having higher household incomes – but copyright infringement still occurs across all demographics.

Dr Potter said the abundance of content available across the multiple streaming platforms in Australia, both paid and free, means there’s not much reason Australians should be turning to piracy.

“These [delay] issues have always been around, obviously. They’re not as bad as they were, but we are also … enjoying an awful lot of very good television,” she said.

“I can’t think that it will lead to the resurgence in piracy that we had, for example, before Netflix [and other streamers] came into the Australian market.”

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