French readers, Netflix is here! But don’t get too excited; it’s an imperfect launch. After an astute media campaign to put Netflix under the spotlight, the unlimited movie and TV show streaming service is available for everyone to see. And with a limited catalog, a limited availability on set-top boxes and a limited set of features compared to its competitors, it’s going to be a tough sell for many households… at least for now.
Netflix’s media campaign was impossible to miss. For the last month, many respectable media outlets published an article every other day on Netflix’s launch in France. There was very little to say except that it was coming.
I wanted to wait for the actual launch before writing anything on Netflix. In other words, I didn’t want to fall for the hype. After all, I wasn’t able to judge before its launch whether the company was going to provide a compelling offering in France. Now you can subscribe for €7.99 per month ($9), €8.99 per month with HD streaming and 2 simultaneous streams ($10), and €11.99 ($15.50) for 4K streaming and four simultaneous streams.
Let’s start with the most important part of the puzzle — the movie and TV catalog. Netflix stated multiple times that it was launching a TV show service in France more than a movie service. While you can stream Downton Abbey or Suits in France and not in the U.S., it’s disappointing to notice many missing shows compared to Netflix’s American catalog. As Corentin Lamy listed on Twitter, you won’t find Mad Men, Parks and Recreation, Friday Night Lights, The West Wing, The Office, The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Rectify and many other hit shows on Netflix France. The list goes on.
You won’t even find House of Cards on Netflix France, even though it was produced by Netflix. The American company already sold the TV rights to Canal+, which also happens to be a direct competitor with its CanalPlay service. This is disturbing.
When it comes to movies, Netflix has a good catalog, or at least as good as it can be. In France, unlimited movie streaming services such as Netflix, CanalPlay and FilmoTV can only provide movies that were released at least three years ago. For example, while I’m definitely not a Transformers fan, the first and second Transformers movies are available, but you won’t find the third and fourth movies anytime soon.
This way, you won’t be tempted to wait for the release on Netflix when a film is available in the cinema, or even in the iTunes Store a few months after its release. But three years is excessive. That’s why members of the National Assembly want this rule to be lowered to two years. It’s probably still too long, but it’s a step in the right direction.
But when it comes to the law, everyone is in the same boat. CanalPlay doesn’t have recent titles either. And when you compare the two services side by side, Netflix seems to be competitive with CanalPlay on the movie front.
Then, there is France’s infamous cultural exception. TV channels and other distributors finance France’s movie industry. For example, Canal+ must spend at least 9 percent of its annual revenue on French movie production.
But Netflix France’s headquarters are based in Luxembourg so that the company doesn’t have to comply with France’s tough requirements. The company also confirmed that it would contribute to the French film industry in some way. Netflix ordered a TV show called Marseille. The pitch sounds like a House of Cards-style TV show in the South of France.
Finally, Netflix couldn’t sign deals with three of the four main Internet service providers. Only Bouygues Telecom added Netflix to its promising Android-based set-top box and on its existing one. Others want more money from Netflix.
In France, most people watch TV through these set-top boxes. All Internet service providers give customers a set-top box to watch IPTV and use as a media center, and you will find CanalPlay on every set-top box. Most people will have to use their video game consoles to access Netflix for now.
Similarly, other streaming services like OCS provide interesting features like offline viewing. This feature is very reminiscent of Spotify. You can download movies on your tablet or phone so that you can view them offline. Everything is encrypted and stays in the OCS app, but it’s convenient. Netflix still relies heavily on Silverlight on the desktop and needs an Internet connection on a tablet.
So let’s review: Netflix is available in France with a decent movie catalog and powerful branding. But original TV shows like Marseille are not yet available, France’s law prevents the service from having recent movies, and the TV show catalog is more limited than expected.
Welcome to France, Netflix. Now get back to work.