BANGKOK – Reed Hastings, chairman, president and CEO of Netflix Inc, has announced that Netflix an internet streaming-video service launched in Thailand Thursday as part of a surprise global expansion that saw the US-based content provider flip the switch on 130 new countries overnight.
“You are witnessing the birth of a global TV network,” CEO Reed Hastings crowed on stage at the US Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas early today Bangkok time.
The news caught almost everyone off guard because Netflix had previously set a goal of being available in most of the world by the end of this year. It looked like the California company had plenty of work ahead it because it ended December in 60 countries, but not Thailand, where viewers with overseas credit cards and bank accounts have had to use virtual private network technology to watch the tens of thousands of television shows and movies available.
Now, Netflix is available in 21 different languages – but not Thai — and streaming in just about every market that it had in its sights, with the notable exception of China.
In Thailand, Netflix is offering a free, no-obligation trial of its service for a month. After that, subscribers can opt and switch between any of three payment plans.
Options start with a standard-definition programming package that can be viewed on only one device at a time for 280 baht a month. The standard package, at 350 baht monthly, offers HD content and simultaneous viewing on two screens. Its 420-baht-per-month plan offers four screens and Ultra-HD content, which requires a 4K television or computer monitor to enjoy.
While opening the doors to Thai viewers, Netflix has not added any new Thai-language content beyond the small selection of films it already had. And while the company on Thursday added support for three new languages, Thai was not among them. Neither the website, app or subtitles are available in Thai.
In his presentation, Mr Hastings said the global roll-out is only the first step in very long global effort to add localised content and language support to its service.
“Today’s launch is like having a baby, but the real work is the next 20 years,” Mr Hastings said. “The real work is to become as popular in Vietnam, Thailand and Brazil as we are in the US.”
To do that, Netflix will eventually add Thai-language support and obtain licences for Thai television shows and movies.
Also, while Netflix is now virtually worldwide, not of all its entertainment will be available everywhere. For instance, a prized licensing contract that gives Netflix the rights to Walt Disney films after their theatrical release will be limited to the US and Canada as part of a deal negotiated several years ago. Mr Hastings told reporters Wednesday that Netflix is hoping to expand those rights into other countries.
On the other hand, viewers in Thailand — even those with a pre-existing account established in the US or UK – will get access to content not available to Netflix users in their home countries, such as movies like The Godfather and television shows including Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul and the television reboot of 12 Monkeys.
Another significant difference Thailand viewers may not look forward to is the same type censorship used in cinemas here and employed by Netflix in other markets to adhere to local media laws.
In a question-and-answer session after his presentation, Mr Hastings said Netflix may introduce “clean” versions of films, similar to those shown on airliners, to address Thai and other local countries’ rules on mature content, violence and respecting cultural sensibilities.
Netflix already sanitises content in Japan, pixelating full-frontal nudity seen in its original Marco Polo series and other content. In Thailand, the service could follow cinematic practice by pixelating smoking, drinking and bloody violence, as well as censor nude scenes.
Netflix is offering three payment plans for Thailand-based viewers. All include a 30-day free trial.