In a little over three years, streaming service Stan has passed 1 million subscribers in Australia – keeping pace with billion-dollar rivals Netflix and Amazon as well as a variety of free-to-air streaming platforms. At an event in Sydney, Stan CEO Mike Sneesby said:
The Australian television landscape continues to change rapidly and with that change, the ambitions and opportunities for Stan continue to grow. We have set out to pioneer the future of television in Australia and today’s subscriber milestone is a great indication of how quickly Aussies are changing their TV viewing habits.
Change has certainly been a big part of the disruption that streaming services have brought to the film and television landscape in Australia. The big question about Stan was whether it could survive. With the million-subscriber milestone out of the way, Stan has now set a precedent for how an Australian streaming service can compete in the crowded local market – and thrive.
Stan launched in 2015 as a joint venture between Nine Entertainment Co. and Fairfax Media. The two companies have now merged as part of a A$4 billion deal, and there’s no doubting that Stan played a huge part in the acquisition. The big drawcards early in Stan’s life were the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle. The film library was built from deals with MGM, Village Roadshow, Sony Pictures and more. Stan began with the promise of fast-tracking hit TV shows from the US on a week-to-week basis alongside a selection of older TV series and films, but it got an edge on its rivals by adding a local flavour to the service.
By investing in ‘Stan Original’ titles, the platform was able to differentiate itself from other streaming services by offering exclusive programming outside of international acquisitions. Stan took Netflix’s playbook and used it to its own advantage. The comedy series No Activity had the honour of being the first Stan Original series, and Wolf Creek, Romper Stomper and The Other Guy followed. Additionally, Stan invested in a series of comedy specials featuring Australian comedians, and recently launched its first original film, The Second (Mairi Cameron, 2018). In comparison, Netflix is yet to launch an Australian original series, though it has commissioned supernatural crime drama Tidelands, which is currently in production. It has also struck gold with Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, which was recorded at the Sydney Opera House and released globally on the platform to much acclaim.
Another part of Stan’s success has been its strategic selection of overseas imports. In 2016, Stan signed a deal giving it exclusive access to programming from the Showtime network. At the time, many speculated over the value of a deal with an American cable channel whose programming was patchy compared to juggernauts like HBO (the home of Game of Thrones), but the investment paid off when Showtime announced a new season of iconic series Twin Peaks in 2017. Stan therefore had an Australian monopoly over one of the biggest television events of that year, and this became a huge part of Stan’s advertising campaign to lure in new subscribers. Stan has continued to choose wisely with its imports, seeing audiences rally around popular shows like UnREAL, Younger, Power, Billions, iZombie, Preacher and Ash vs. Evil Dead.
Stan managed to find the balance between giving subscribers new international programs without the delays that are far too common in Australia while offering local exclusives. Australia has a terrible track record when it comes to piracy, so meeting the demand of local audiences when it comes to television has worked in Stan’s favour. And it’s all backed up by a film library that’s beginning to feature a wide selection of classics, world cinema, indies and recent releases. There’s enough on Stan to supplant the home-release cycle once dominated by video stores, especially when it comes to films made before the 1980s – there is a limited presence of older films on streaming platforms.
So what does life beyond a million subscribers look like for Stan? Two new Stan Original series are on the way: Bloom, a six-part rural-set supernatural drama, and The Gloaming, a new show from The Kettering Incident creator Vicki Madden about the investigation of a mysterious cold case in the Tasmanian wilderness. Stan has also signed output deals with the studios MGM and Lionsgate, which means it’ll screen the John Wick spin-off The Continental as well as the supernatural series The Rook, based on the novel of the same name by Australian author Daniel O’Malley.
Stan is now a mainstay of the Australian media landscape thanks to clever programming and its understanding that subscribers want local titles on their digital platforms. Netflix and Amazon are sleeping giants when it comes to their ‘made in Australia’ certification, but they could learn a thing or two from Stan.