My Week With Stan

Originally published February 3, 2015, on TheVine.

In a land of slow internet speeds (by world comparison); in a time when Netflix has not yet made it to Australia; a new streaming service dared to launch that was not connected to Foxtel.

The Nine Network and Fairfax’s SVOD (streaming video on demand) service Stan officially launched last Monday. However you feel about the name, it’s one of the big players of the SVOD services changing the TV landscape in Australia in 2015.

In the lead up the news about Stan had been promising. In a bid for your eyeballs, they managed to exclusively land the highly anticipated Breaking Bad spin-off, Better Call Saul, and the now Golden Globe-winning Transparent. Plus a swathe of those TV shows and movies you heard were good but were too lazy to be compelled to download.

With this decent offering and a 30-day free trial, I was happy to get a free cow for a month and stop getting my milk through the fence.

The sign-up process was straightforward and up front – it didn’t feel like it was trying to trick me into signing up for anything I didn’t want. After 30 days, Stan would charge my credit card for 10 bucks, no more no less, and that was it (unlike another service that I’ll get to).

After Day One I was willing to give Stan the thumbs up. I watched the first episode of Orphan Black with no complaints. But I knew that if there were teething problems or things I didn’t like about Stan, I’d find out about them on our second or third date. So began my week with Stan.

Minimal look and features

When first opening up the Stan app on my iPad, the thing that was obvious was its similarity to Netflix in layout. The one time I’d properly seen Netflix in action was via a housemate and his workaround VPN. I was not in control, so can’t comment on the smaller details that differ between the services.

With Stan, things are stripped back. You can add programs to “My List” and create profiles (through the website, not the app) limiting content if you have kids/ don’t want to see boobies. But the profiles are three choices of: kids viewing, restricting up to a certain classification, or unrestricted. I went with unrestricted because no one’s the boss of me (and I’m happy to see boobies).

While the simple delivery has its positives – no doubt there are fewer bugs and technical issues with less to worry about – there are a couple of things I’m used to in my usual viewing experience on DVD or VLC that Stan can’t give me at the moment. I want captions, and I want to be able to move forward and back in the video easily.

I often feel like a weird person when I bring up that I like to watch movies and TV shows with captions (it’s like reading a book! With moving pictures!), but how the hell am I meant to understand what Rick is whispering about things and stuff on The Walking Dead. Stan does, of course, have subtitles for its foreign programs, and says captioning is coming for some of its other programs at some point.

On the video side, ideally it would be great to have a way to easily navigate a show without having to inaccurately drag my finger along the play line, not knowing how far I’ve moved forward or back until it tries to reload from that point. It would be great if there were DVD features like scene skipping or fast forward/rewind in 30-second intervals, but I don’t think many streaming services offer that at this stage. My guess is it is a costly addition to create and maintain without it breaking all the time.

My first streaming issue

It only occurred to me while in the midst of my first streaming issue that I would have to admit to watching Sex and the City 2 on the weekend. Perhaps it made my streaming issue more frustrating as well because being a horrendous film, it meant I was dedicating way more time to this movie than I signed up for.

It happened after my iPad ran out of juice and needed to be charged and restarted. The app would work fine, with other programs as well, but as soon as I went back to Sex and the City 2 (I had 40 minutes – and little did I know, the most offensive part – left of the 2 1/2 hour movie. How ever much I didn’t like it, I was invested.) The screen would remain black, but the audio would kick off again. Not knowing when the image would return, I did the usual pausing, closing the app, reopening, playing (no dice), closing, reopening.

I tried the app on my smartphone, and it seemed to work. Eventually, I switched back to the iPad that decided to work again. It probably had a bit to do with Wi-Fi at times, and possibly with the battery life of my device. I can’t say for sure because I have no control to test it against, and I don’t have in-depth knowledge on these kinds of issues.

Genres and available selections

I dig the genre selections – they’ve divided it up well into your moods. Binge-watching: “Every. Episode. Ever” and “Sagas, Sequels and Spinoffs”; non-blockbuster, solid films: “Indie Festival Favourites”; love stories: “love & lust” (not chick flicks thank God); and decades: “Nineties Nostalgia”, “Awesome Eighties”, “The Seventies on Screen”.

The movie selections as well are a mix of popular go-to stuff and things you wouldn’t necessarily choose to download, but you’d watch if it were on TV. Like going to the old fashioned video store – you pick something in your 7-movie selection because you heard it was good, or you liked the blurb (I miss reading blurbs).

Some of the descriptions don’t give much detail about the film (for TV shows, you can click on info for each episode) and aren’t very helpful for viewers “taking a chance on an unknown kid”.

For example, the film Frequency  reads “A cop makes radio contact with his dead father.” Not that exciting… except for the fact IT’S A TIME TRAVEL PARADOX MOVIE. People who like that genre of film will want to know IT’S A TIME TRAVEL PARADOX MOVIE. That’s all they need to know. Sure the sci-fi element is kind of implied in the “radio contact with his dead father”, but not really.

Devices

Being an Apple user, I haven’t encountered the problems some Android users seem to have had with their devices. It does connect to Google Chrome cast and Apple TV. But it did ask me to use Safari or Firefox on my laptop because Google Chrome on Mac doesn’t support plug-ins anymore.

The Verdict

With what is currently available as SVOD services in Australia, so far Stan has proven to be a pretty good option and at the best market price. I’ve previously used Quickflix (in 2013) and wasn’t impressed with their available selection, or having to pay extra for premium content on top of the $29.99 a month bundle subscription fee (DVD rental service & streaming). It’s also not obvious that you’ll be paying more for premium content until after you’ve signed up, which is so ridiculous you’d rather they didn’t offer it at all.**

Compared to Presto – which sees the Seven Network team up with Foxtel, and just launched its TV arm a few weeks ago – Stan also appears to be the better choice. With Presto you can watch TV or movies for $10 a month, but if you want both it’ll be $15. Its biggest pull is it has all of the current Foxtel shows – ie. the only thing you’re interested in: HBO – but in everything else, it’s on par or below what Stan has at the moment. Foxtel may have solved its biggest problem (the having to buy-the-kitchen-sink-if-you-just-want-the-tap problem), but it’s still not willing to give new subscribers exactly what they want at a good price.

But when Netflix comes along, it’s hard not to imagine all of these services being blown out of the water. At the moment it is the second most popular paid content media service in Australia, and it’s not even officially here yet. While there are still content deals on the big shows which will mean we will probably only get Netflix Lite for the first year or so, Netflix is such a giant and the Australian market is so small. Netflix also churns out award-winning original content. Can Australian services really match them in competition?

Until then though, it kind of depends whether you’d rather give your money to Murdoch or Packer (and by extension Rinehart…).

I recommend at least getting your 30 Day trial next Monday so you can get as many Better Call Saul eps for free as possible.

@annahoran

**Since publishing the article, we have found Quickflix now offers streaming at $9.99 per month. The $29.99 figure was their bundled price for streaming and DVD delivery service, which has since changed and now offered at $19.99. Premium content is offered at an additional $2.99.

This article has been amended. It originally said that Game of Thrones would appear on Presto, when that is not the case. The new season of Game of Thrones will reportedly not be available on any streaming services worldwide in 2015. 

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