Netflix may have 20,000 or more customers in Australia—where it hasn’t even launched

November 26, 2013
November 26, 2013

Netflix counts more than 9 million customers as paying international  subscribers, but there could be many more of them buried in its measure of US subscribers, which are approaching 30 million.

The internet streaming service has been available outside the US since 2010—first in Canada, the UK and Latin America, and more recently in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. But the service isn’t available in Australia, a large, wealthy, English-speaking country that seems like fertile ground for the company. This may soon change, if recent speculation proves accurate.

Netflix has thus far avoided the Australian market, where the service is blocked, mostly because the dominant pay TV company, which is controlled by News Corp, has exclusive deals with US film studios for the content it airs in Australia. These arrangements effectively block Netflix from offering its streaming services at the low prices it’s known for in the US.

But that hasn’t stopped thousands of Australians from signing up for subscriptions by using services that mask their IP addresses, and make it look like they’re signing up from the US. This software, while possibly illegal, has nevertheless been actively promoted by consumer groups in Australia, where prices for digital content are much higher than in the US.  A parliamentary inquiry last year found that Australians pay 52% more for iTunes music downloads than Americans, for instance. Tech giants have mostly failed to explain the discrepancy.

The Australian newspaper (paywall) reports that 20,000 Australians have taken out Netflix subscriptions using spoof IP addresses. Industry experts Quartz has spoken to estimate the number could be as high as 50,000. The company declined to comment.

Netflix could eventually overcome its pricing dilemma in Australia by playing up the value of its expanding original content—but for the moment those offerings alone probably wouldn’t entice enough Australians to pay for the limited service outright. Nevertheless, the popularity of bootlegged Netflix in Australia suggests the service might already be a global sensation, cloaked in big US numbers.

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