Much ado about Netflix: Is Internet TV for you?

Eden Estopace - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Talks of Netflix expanding to Asia have been swirling for months and the anticipation was just as exciting for cinephiles. When the company announced at the Consumer and Electronics Show (CES 2016) in Las Vegas early this month that the Philippines is among the countries included in the global rollout, it has created a big splash locally, and understandably so.   

The service has been previously available only in the US and select territories, including Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. But many have bypassed the geographic blocking by using a virtual private network (VPN) to trick the system into believing that one is residing in the US.

Netflix’s biggest draw is that for a fixed monthly subscription fee, one can watch all the movies, TV shows, and original content the company has to offer, and on many different screens.   

“Entertainment and technology are continuing to transform each other as they have been doing for over a hundred years — from radio to broadcast TV, broadcast TV to cable TV, and now the Internet TV,” says Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix at a keynote address at CES.

Before signing up for the paid service, however, there are some things to consider:

Know your bandwidth

You cannot talk of or even begin to dream about streaming movies and TV shows on your devices without the necessary bandwidth. According to Netflix, users must have a minimum Internet download speed of at least 0.5 Mbps to stream movies. It highly recommends though that it must reach at least 1.5 Mbps for better quality. 

What is deemed ideal for Standard Definition (SD) quality viewing, however, is at least 3 Mbps. For High-Definition (HD)  and Ultra HD quality, you need 5 Mbps and 20 Mbps Internet connection speed, respectively. Netflix also reminds customers that  to know the details of your bandwidth allocation or if there is a data cap as streaming in HD and ultra HD use more bandwidth — approximately 3 GB per hour for HD and 7 GB per hour for ultra HD.

Local telecommunications companies PLDT-Smart and Globe Telecom both welcomed the arrival of Netflix, saying their networks are prepared for the demand and it may be the best time to revisit your data plan or consider an upgrade.

In addition to its of home broadband plans, PLDT recommends Home Fibr, which it says can deliver speeds of up to 16 Gbps and with plans starting at P1,899 that also comes free with a Tvolution stick. It said Fibr’s unique symmetrical download and upload speeds would allow  users to watch their  Netflix shows on high-definition and even on Ultra HD quality. 

Smart  recommends its Smart Bro Plan 799, which it said would allow consumers to access Netflix outside the home through its  4G pocket Wifi that comes with 4.5 GB data allocation, as well as its various prepaid kits.

Globe Telecom, on the other hand, said its Home Broadband Plan 1299 and up can access Netflix with Chromecast, a thumb-sized media streaming device that plugs into the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port of one’s television set at home.

Chromecast is compatible with Android devices, tablets, iPhones, iPads, Macs or Windows laptops or Chromebooks. The gadget effectively allows customers to enjoy Netflix from any mobile device to a bigger screen.

Payment matters

The currency of any digital economy is plastic. Read: Credit and debit cards. But recently, it has also expanded into virtual cards, mobile wallets and a whole gamut of non-cash payment schemes. Finance technology innovation is on the ramp, though, making it possible even for consumers with no credit cards or bank accounts to purchase digital products and services.

PayMaya Philippines (formerly Smart eMoney Inc.), the digital financial services unit of PLDT and Smart Communications Inc. (Smart), has an online payment app that generates an instant virtual prepaid Visa which people can use to subscribe to Netflix. 

The prepaid virtual card is reloadable at various Load Up Centers including 7-Eleven Cliqq kiosks, SM Business Centers, and Robinson’s Business Centers.

“With PayMaya, we’re opening the doors to the digital life to Filipinos who don’t have credit cards by enabling access to services such as Netflix,” said Paolo Azzola, co-chief operating officer at PayMaya Philippines. 

Globe is also offering its GCash Mastercard as a payment facility for non-credit card owners. It is a reloadable prepaid card that allows customers to make purchases in retail stores anywhere in the world, shop online in local and international e-commerce sites, withdraw from ATMs or GCash outlets nationwide, and now pay for a Netflix subscription.

Of screens and pricing

Netflix movies and TV shows are available for viewing on personal computers (desktops), tablets, smartphones, Smart TVs, Blu-ray players, and game consoles. The pricing scheme for the service is actually based in part on the number of screens you would watch movies at the same time and whether you prefer SD, HD or ultra HD quality.

The basic plan starts at P370 and it allows you to watch on one screen. The next plan at P460 allows you to watch on two screens at a time and you can watch in HD mode. The premium package at P550 allows you to watch on four screens simultaneously and videos are available for playback in ultra HD. 

 The key is to know how you want to stream movies and TV shows and on what devices. Are there other members of the household you are sharing the subscription with? The more basic question though is: do you really have the time to watch movies?  

What’s on the menu?

“Internet TV allows us to redefine what is possible — great stories at your fingertips,” says Hastings. 

Netflix takes pride in a very extensive catalog of movies and TV shows, including original series, documentaries and feature films. Content that may be accessed by members, however, slightly varies per territory.

Hastings says this is due to issues of territorial licensing, which is a legacy from the last seven or eight years. “But we are moving as quickly as we can to have global availability of all the content on Netflix so that there are not regional distinctions. We’re still somewhat a prisoner of the current distribution architecture, we’re trying really hard to get there,” he explains during a press conference after the keynote.

The company, however, has been known to offer its original content globally. And so far these content have gained a following, including Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Marco Polo, Beasts of No Nation, and Orange is the New Black. 

Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, says the list is going to grow over time as they are now working with local storytellers in Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Colombia, France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the UK and the United States.

In 2016, Netflix plans to release 31 new and returning original series, two dozen original feature films, and documentaries, a wide range of stand-up comedy specials and 30 original kids series -- available at the same time to members everywhere.

“We are making kids cartoons, teen dramas, sci-fi thrillers, adult comedies and historical epics. We are working in multiple languages and we have seen through the success of our series Narcos that we can be successful across all territories — even when the original language is not English,” Sarandos says.

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