SINGAPORE - Amid the excitement over content streaming service Netflix to finally launch here early next year, there is a question mark over whether local viewers would pay for potentially censored content when they are now able to access the full original versions of the same shows via a VPN service.
Netflix announced on Wednesday that it would launch its Internet streaming service in Singapore early next year, as part of a global roll-out by the end of 2016.
While the company did not provide programming details, it pointedly stated in its press release that its selection available here would be "curated".
Fans are taking this to mean that controversial content such as TV series Orange Is The New Black (2013-present), which features same-sex couples in a women's prison, may either be censored, or not offered altogether.
A spokesman from the Media Development Authority (MDA) said: "MDA welcomes Netflix's expansion to Singapore. It will inject greater vibrancy into our media sector and provide viewers with more choices.
"MDA will work with Netflix to familiarise them with Singapore's regulations and media capabilities ahead of their arrival."
Meanwhile, many Singaporeans are already accessing Netflix content that is currently blocked by geo-restrictions using VPN (virtual private network), a service which MDA has said is "legitimate".
Two weeks ago, Internet service provider ViewQwest said more than half of its broadband network's traffic is from users accessing Netflix content.
Writer Desiree Koh, 38, who is a longtime Netflix subscriber, tells Life that she does not see the point of paying for a local Netflix service if it does not carry the full version of her favourite show Orange Is The New Black.
She says: "I'm paying about US$50 a year for my VPN service, which is a small price to pay for full, uncensored content. I wouldn't want to miss out on any parts of the TV show, so I wouldn't switch over to the Netflix Singapore service if it is going to censor that.
"And going by the filters we have seen so far with content here, I'm pretty sure many scenes will be cut, and each episode will go from one hour to just 30 minutes."
In the United States, the basic plan that allows for one standard definition stream is priced at US$7.99 (S$11.30) a month. The Singapore subscription prices have not been announced yet.
Previously, Apple and Google launched their movie buying and rental services here, but were caught offering R21-rated titles, such as Fifty Shades Of Grey and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, to local users. R21 titles are meant for theatrical and not home video release.
Both companies have since removed R21 titles from their service, and are working with the MDA on classifying their content.
Another TV fan, Mr Edwin Yeo, 48, is more optimistic about the future of Netflix's Singapore service. He believes that the service will still gain traction among less tech-savvy users.
The general manager of public relations consultancy Strategic Public Relations Group says: "For the people who are not sure of how to use VPN services, they may not mind the content regulation and will still subscribe to Netflix's Singapore service. It will be a good service for more casual consumers of entertainment, who just want to watch TV shows and movies through the easiest options available. That is why many Singaporeans are still subscribing to cable TV, even if some of the content is censored."
Netflix is known not only for offering a large library of TV and movie titles, but also for producing groundbreaking original content. Other than Orange Is The New Black, Netflix is also home to critically acclaimed political TV drama House Of Cards (2013 - present), and Tina Fey and Robert Carlock's new comedy series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015).
The company made history for being the first to be recognised by the Primetime Emmy Awards in 2013 for digitally distributed content, when it picked up 14 Emmy nominations for its original content. It is also known for popularising binge-watching when it released all 13 episodes of House Of Cards at once two years ago(2013).
MDA's stance on regulating Internet content:
"MDA takes a practical approach to regulating content on the Internet. We adopt a light touch for content which does not target the Singapore market, and will only intervene if the content violates community standards or poses security risks. At the same time, MDA works with online content providers servicing Singapore (e.g. Apple, Google) to ensure that their content offerings are consistent with our media classification framework.
"We are aware that Singaporeans access overseas content that is not ordinarily available here, including through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). VPNs are legitimate services that offer better privacy and security, and are offered in various forms, such as via an online subscription or a set-top box. However, users should ensure that they do not violate any copyright laws when using VPNs to access content that is hosted overseas."