Cable TV? No, give me Netflix please

For a long time, Singaporeans have been watching television and films at home either on free-to-air channels or via a cable TV subscription.

Then, in January, American streaming service giant Netflix went live in 190 territories around the world, including Singapore, and shook up TV viewing habits here.

Suddenly, viewers could access hundreds of programmes on demand and on the go using their smartphones, tablets and laptops - all at an affordable price of about $11 a month.

Netflix users could also cancel or renew their subscriptions at any time - a much more flexible option than the complicated subscription-pack model used by pay-TV operators StarHub and Singtel.

Of course, pockets of viewers have accessed the American version of Netflix using VPN (virtual private network) before, but that was limited to the tech-savvy crowd.

Given the ease with which the average Singaporean can now use the service, Netflix has been giving pay-TV operators some serious competition.

StarHub has actually been running its own Web streaming service, StarHub Go, since August last year, but the impact of its launch was not felt as strongly as Netflix's, given that many people already have StarHub television subscriptions via the established set-top box route.

Still, the fact that StarHub even launched a Web pay-TV platform at all is a clear sign that Singaporean TV audiences are increasingly going online.

It is therefore no surprise that so many Internet streaming services have launched here this year, following Netflix's much-hyped introduction.

Hong Kong's Viu debuted a week after Netflix, giving audiences access to a wide library of Asian TV titles, including one of the hottest Korean dramas of the year, Descendants Of The Sun, starring Song Joong Ki and Song Hye Kyo.

In August, Taiwanese on-demand service Catchplay started operations here, introducing viewers to a wide selection of movies from around the world.

Last month saw the launch of streaming service Hooq, a joint venture among Singtel, Warner Bros Entertainment and Sony Pictures Television.

It has a catalogue of more than 20,000 films and TV series from Asia and beyond.

Earlier this month, Amazon also launched its Prime Video service, which offers award-winning Amazon TV originals such as dramedy Transparent (2014 - present), on top of a vast library of film and TV content.

As a recent survey commissioned by subscriber management specialist Paywizard indicated, Singaporeans are one of the fastest-growing audiences in the world for online pay-TV platforms, with the number of subscribers for such services here doubling in the past 12 months.

As there are so many streaming services offered by different companies, however, it remains to be seen whether their individual take-up rates will be high enough to keep them all sustainable.

Still, are the days of conventional television viewing via the set-top box numbered?

This article was first published on Dec 30, 2016.
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