Netflix, Availability, and Censorship in Indonesia


Netflix is now available in Indonesia. The surprising announcement came overnight during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in which Netflix CEO Reed Hastings revealed that the ad-free online video subscription service is now available in 130 new countries.

New subscribers can sign up for a monthly plan with a credit card and get the first month free. In Indonesia the cost starts from Rp 109,000 for the Basic plan which does not include high definition stream and can only be used in one device at a time. The service does not differentiate subscriptions based on content, rather it separates them based on streaming quality and access. The more expensive plans allow higher definition images and greater simultaneous streaming options.

Patchwork of availability
The company’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos told The Verge that currently the content still varies by territory. “Because of existing deals and old contracts and those kind of things, there’s a patchwork of availability around the world, so Netflix today is different from one country to the next”.

While the company is working on making all of its content available globally it does recognize regional sensitivities and Sarandos admitted that it might take “a few years” to achieve global content parity.

This is perhaps a goal that is easier to plan than to achieve. Apple’s iTunes for example, remains a mixed bag of contents across the world after many years in operation, with availability differing in each market. Perhaps a more realistic goal is to ensure titles with sufficient or significant enough demand are available.

Netflix original productions which include serials and movies will be released simultaneously around the world but other content which the company has to pay license for will depend on the deals.

At the moment, for example, the company’s award winning political drama House of Cards is not available from Netflix in Indonesia, very likely due to global distribution rights being held by Sony Television. Something that the company will certainly address in the near future as the fourth season begins in just under two months.

Challenges and Opportunities
For the Indonesian market, Netflix may not offer much of a compelling library at the moment as most of the 240 odd million Indonesians tend to prefer local programming, in particular variety and comedy shows. The low credit card penetration, currently at 16 million cards in circulation, also limits the service’s availability.

At Rp 139,000 per month for the Standard package subscription fee, the cost is very affordable for a large group of consumers but content of course holds the largest appeal. Given the type of shows currently available on the service, it is going to be of interest primarily to a niche segment, specifically pay TV subscribers who prefer foreign shows, the number of which is in the low millions in Indonesia.

While a number of Indonesian movies have been made available on Netflix in the US and other regions, domestically it does not currently carry Indonesian content, although it does have a limited selection of Indian movies, which holds a very wide appeal in the country.

Netflix could employ dedicated curator or librarian of sorts to ensure relevant content is available in each region or country but if it plans to have global rights to all the contents that it can have its hands on, then perhaps local selections may not be too crucial as everything would be available everywhere.

With the increasing interest in comedy shows in Indonesia, especially stand up comedies, Netflix in Indonesia could easily embrace this community and feature many of the country’s stand up comedians such as Ernest Prakasa, Pandji Pragiwaksono, and Soleh Solihun, who have begun distributing their own shows through physical and digital means. Additionally, it could also be home to independent filmmakers looking for an audience.

One major challenge that Netflix would face in Indonesia is censorship. The company has conceded that there are regional sensitivities that the company has to accept to ensure its operations. Sarandos said, “networks and studios have been navigating those waters for years, so we’ll just have to do the same”. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said during a Q&A session following the announcement, “the thrust of what we’re trying to do is have the artistic vision be consistent through the world”.

Indonesia has blocked YouTube once due to a single movie depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad and currently Vimeo is not accessible without work arounds due to numerous contents featuring various depictions of nudity and sexual situations. Indonesia might be a country with a high regard towards freedom of expression and a generally tolerant and welcoming society but conservatism is at an all time high, which means that content distribution companies must tread the waters carefully.