Smart Consumer: Are you ready to watch all your flicks on the net?
Popular US streaming site Netflix is coming to Ireland, writes Ed Power
The announcement that the movie and television service Netflix is to launch in Ireland "early in the new year" has been greeted rapturously by film aficionados.
With thousands of releases in its vaults, the arrival of Netflix theoretically means that never again will you be able to complain there's nothing on TV.
Whether you enjoy curling up in front of Mad Men or watching the entire Star Wars series, the promise is that every taste will be catered for.
But how much will you have to pay for the privilege of using Netflix, and do you need to be a computer expert to get the most from the service?
The answer to the first question is that nobody knows, though it is likely the monthly subscription will be in the region of €8, for which you will be able to 'rent' over the internet an unlimited number of movies and TV shows.
In America, where Netflix launched in 1997 (initially as a DVD rental service) and has 26 million subscribers, it recently jacked up its monthly cost to $7.99, prompting tens of thousands of users to cancel their subscriptions and sending its share price into a tailspin (its market capitalisation has fallen by $7bn since April).
As for the technology . . . well, unless you are happy to watch a movie on your computer, you will have to invest in a set-top service that lets internet streaming on your TV.
Options include the Apple TV set-top or rivals such as the Boxee. Simply connect to your television, hook up to your wireless internet and off you go. In addition many new Blu-ray DVD players include a streaming option. And it is likely Netflix will reach an agreement with Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, as it has in the US, to permit you to stream movies using your games console.
In other words, you won't need to be a computer whiz -- but if you struggle to operate a mobile phone, the subtleties of Netflix may be beyond you.
However excited Netflix cheerleaders may be, the truth is that you can already watch movies in a variety of ways, some offering better value than others.
Granted, none can boast the sheer range Netflix promises -- on the other hand, few involve the hassle of subscription.
A major drag on Netflix's growth in the US is that it is seen by many principally as a DVD rental service, whereby you receive your chosen movie in the post, watch it at your leisure, and send it back by post.
The company tried to separate its rental and streaming businesses but this caused its share price to plummet and prompted an outcry among customers who were happy subscribing to just the one company.
In Ireland and the UK -- where it originally planned to launch as far back as 2005 -- the expectation is that Netflix will be a streaming-only service.
Regardless of the level of uptake, it will likely be the first of many streaming services to enter the market. The next generation of televisions increasingly include streaming as standard, meaning you won't have to buy a separate box.
Whatever way you look at it, television on demand is just around the next corner.
"Netflix has found it tough in the US to separate its DVD and streaming business, but it should find it easier in the UK and Ireland given that its sole focus will be on the streaming market," says Marc Chacksfield, deputy editor of UK technology site Techradar.
"When it comes to streaming we already have the likes of LoveFilm in the UK, which has support from Amazon, but this rivalry should mean more competitive pricing and will definitely help in profile building.
"While Netflix has got the backing of major studios it needs to make sure it is on enough platforms to pique consumers' interests. This means Smart TVs, games consoles and more importantly mobile phones and tablets -- two sectors that are growing at an exponential rate."