Ask any avid TV fan in Australia and they will tell you that many of the best TV shows take weeks (or months) to air on Australian TV or become available via online streaming services.
That sentiment is reflected in my research on the highest rated TV shows of the first half of 2015. Even with the advent of Netflix and Stan in 2015, the research reveals that just four TV shows — out of 47 that were surveyed — were available in Australia on TV and online within a day of their international premiere (those four shows were Justified, Mad Men, Orange is the New Black, and Wayward Pines).
I've created a handy-dandy graphical guide so you can quickly spot the Australian TV Delay on your favourite shows. Green is good, yellow is OK, red and black are bad. [button color="red" size="small" link="http://www.smh.com.au/cqstatic/gijsxd/AU-TV-Delay-v1.pdf" target="blank" ]Click Here For A Full-Size PDF[/button]
Start counting TV shows that are available on either traditional TV OR online within a day, and the number increases to 14 out of 47 (30 per cent). This includes TV shows such as Game of Thrones which was fast-tracked by Foxtel — and also available on Foxtel's digital platforms — but was not available on online services such as iTunes until 65 days after the international premiere (the day after the season finale).
It also includes Netflix Originals such as Marvel's Daredevil, which is available to every Netflix customer around the world simultaneously but is not typically licensed to traditional TV networks (Orange is the New Black, another Netflix Original, was an exception this year because it also aired on Foxtel).
The remaining 70 per cent of shows surveyed were not legally available within a day in Australia. And these TV shows did not just take a few days to arrive, the overwhelming majority took many weeks to arrive.
Worse still, 12 of the shows surveyed (26 per cent) still do not have a confirmed release date as of publication. These 12 TV shows include the critically acclaimed American Crime and season 2 of Halt and Catch Fire, which was nominated for 'Most Exciting New Series' in the Critics' Choice Television Awards last year.
Looking solely at the delay for TV shows to arrive on traditional TV, the numbers are really quite bad.
Eight TV shows arrive within a day (17 per cent), two arrive within a week (4 per cent), four arrive within a month (9 per cent), 12 arrive after more than a month (26 per cent) and 21 have no confirmed release date yet (45 per cent).
Put another way, just 14 out of the 47 shows surveyed are available on traditional TV in Australia within a month of their international premiere.
Switching to focus on the numbers on the delay for TV shows to arrive on online services, the numbers are similarly tragic.
Ten TV shows arrive within a day (21 per cent), one arrives within a week (2 per cent), five arrive within a month (11 per cent), 13 arrive after more than a month (28 per cent) and 18 have no confirmed release date yet (38 per cent).
All told, just 16 out of the 47 shows surveyed are available on online services in Australia within a month of their international premiere. Only one in three.
Netflix and Stan Shake Things Up
The first six months of 2015 saw the arrival of online streaming services Stan and Netflix, and they played a big role in the timely availability of TV shows in Australia. Because of their arrival, there were more TV shows available within a day on online services (10) than there were on traditional TV (8).
Stan brought Better Call Saul and Community, and Netflix brought 5 of its original TV shows to Australia within a day, meaning that without Stan or Netflix, just 3 TV shows would have been available in Australia online within a day.
Additionally, those 3 remaining TV shows (Justified, Mad Men and Wayward Pines) might be available online within a day, but they still aired on Foxtel first, and were delayed by a few hours before appearing on iTunes and other online stores.
The significance of all this should not be understated. In the context of TV shows in Australia, online has always been viewed and treated as a secondary medium where people could catch up on things they missed on traditional TV.
There have been some exceptions to this, such as when SBS airs Orphan Black on its online catch up service before it airs on TV. However with the launch of Stan and Netflix, Australians are now faced with the new reality that if they want to watch some of the most anticipated TV shows they are going to have to get it online.
It should also be noted that Netflix in particular has been doing an incredible job of creating high-quality TV shows. It was just a few years ago when House of Cards and Netflix original programming began.
To put that in perspective, out of the 47 TV shows surveyed this year, HBO is the network with the most shows in the list with 7, but Netflix is now right behind them with 6, well ahead of AMC and ABC America with only 3 each.
HBO Now and Showtime
This year has also seen some interesting developments in the United States, with premium cable channels, HBO and Showtime launching their own standalone online subscriptions. HBO Now, which costs US$14.99 a month, gives subscribers access to all of HBO's current and past original content, including Game of Thrones, True Detective, The Wire and The Sopranos. Showtime's service, which costs $10.99, is nearly identical and gives subscribers access to shows such as Homeland, Ray Donovan, Dexter and Weeds.
New episodes of HBO and Showtime shows are available through their online subscriptions at the same time that they air on US cable. Some Australians have been able to use VPN and DNS services to side-step the HBO Now and Showtime geo-blocking restrictions — giving Australians a way to watch new episodes without delay, whilst still paying for the content (although using these services from Australia does break the terms of service).
Some Improvement, Some Worsening on Last Year's Survey
Although I made some small changes to the way I present the data and increased the sample size, you can still compare these results with those from my article last year.
Overall, the situation has improved thanks to Netflix and Stan, which means that the number of TV shows available online within a day in this year's survey is double what it was last year.
But at the same time, the number of shows that take more than a month to arrive has ballooned significantly. Last year, 19 per cent of surveyed shows took more than a month to arrive on an online service, this year it doubled to 38 per cent — although part of that may be explained by the drop in TV shows that do not have a release date, which went from 52 per cent to 38 per cent.
In terms of traditional TV, the number of shows that take more than a week to arrive has also increased from 64 per cent to 79 per cent, although a big chunk of this can be explained by Stan or Netflix acquiring the exclusive licensing rights for a number of shows.
Extreme Delays Still Exist
As noted previously, 12 of the surveyed shows do not have a confirmed airdate.
Optimistically, that information could be confirmed tomorrow and the TV shows could air the following week. But it is just as likely that it could be many, many months before they air.
Let's look at the acclaimed show Halt and Catch Fire. It has taken Foxtel a whopping 357 days to air the first season (episodes also appear on iTunes after they air on Foxtel).
Amazingly, this delay meant that season 2 began airing in the US on 31 May 2015, weeks before Foxtel started the first season in Australia on 23 June 2015.
Foxtel said that season 2 will air this September.
There were lengthy waits for some of the other TV shows surveyed last year. There was Years of Living Dangerously, which aired in the US in April last year, and arrived in Australia in November on SBS, a delay of 226 days.
It took a staggering 389 days for Community season 5 to arrive in Australia, but it was brought to Australia with the launch of Stan which subsequently made season 6 available in Australia within hours of its international premiere.
Rectify season 2 also took a while to arrive in Australia, with a delay of 202 days, but season 3 (which has just begun) has been fast-tracked by SBS and new episodes are available on SBS On Demand within a few hours of their international premiere.
Questions to Foxtel, Stan and SBS
We sent some questions relating to this article to Foxtel, Stan and SBS. A Foxtel spokesperson spoke to me yesterday, but Stan and SBS did not respond to our requests.
A Foxtel spokesperson revealed that two of the shows that I have listed as "TBA" (Ballers and Halt and Catch Fire) will air on Foxtel this September (they didn't have a specific date).
I also asked Foxtel about this year's Game of Thrones season which aired on Australian TV at the same time as it did in the US. The Foxtel spokesperson explained that it was the first time they had aired a TV show from the US live, and that whilst they don't yet have any plans for bringing this to other TV shows, it is something they will consider for other TV shows in the future.
I didn't quite get a specific answer to some of my other questions but the Foxtel spokesperson did take a moment to note that Foxtel do bring a number of their shows to Australia "Express from the US" — whether it be live like Game of Thrones or after a 2 hour delay — for many of the HBO series and in the evening for others.
They also pointed out that Foxtel reduced the price of their Entertainment pack late last year to $25 and, as a special promotion, reduced the price of their Premium Movies & Drama add-on package to $5 for Foxtel Play customers during this year's Game of Thrones season.
I used Metacritic to compile a list of top TV shows. I only included TV shows which had a season premiere in the first six months of 2015 (1 January to 30 June). To rank the TV shows I used a combination of the critic score and the user score (weighted 50 per cent each).
Traditional TV includes Free-to-Air channels and Foxtel, including their respective catch-up services such as ABC iView, SBS On Demand and Foxtel Go. Online Services include online stores such as iTunes, Google Play and Xbox Video plus online streaming services such as Netflix, Stan and Presto.
Numbers may not always add up to exactly 100 per cent due to rounding.