Paper Tigers: The CRTC, Can-Con, and the Good Netflix

Friday, October 31, 2014 9:00 AM

Paper Tigers: The CRTC, Canadian Content and the Good Netflix by Jason Lee Norman

People want to only pay for what they watch and they want to watch things at a time that is most convenient to them.

Now that Netflix is slowly starting to become a content creator instead of just a content provider, the CRTC wants to come to Canadians' rescue and demand Netflix start producing some Canadian content for us.

Most of you know this already, but the Internet is a series of tubes. These tubes can take you all over the world. You can send an email to your best friend who is the prince of Nigeria or you can look at photos of your brotherís vacation in Turkey on Facebook and you can shop for Korean energy drinks on Korean energy drink websites. The point is that there are no limits to where you can go and what you can see, as long as you have an internet connection and can understand the language being spoken on the particular website.

I donít know about you but lately I seem to be encountering more and more instances where my freedom of choice is being limited by nefarious government agencies with a penchant for bureaucracy and kowtowing to corporate interests. Letís start with television:

Do you have Netflix? Do you pay $8 a month or do you just use your sisterís password? Either way, Netflix is cool, right? Itís great to watch all those shows and movies and now they even have original programing. Neato! So the other day I was feeling a bit emotional about Phillip Seymour Hoffman and I went to bring up The Master on the good olí Netflix. But wait, The Master isnít available. Why is that? My friend in Minnesota can watch The Master on Netflix streaming 100 times in a row if she wants. Why canít I? Itís because I live in Canada, thatís why. Itís not just because I live in Canada. Itís because I live in Canada and a Canadian cable company has purchased the rights to show The Master on their own Pay-Per-View channel and so therefore it cannot be watched by any other living soul in Canada. But Jason, youíre probably saying, thatís totally dumb. Cable companies canít control what Netflix does. Heck, I donít even have a TV, you might be saying. How can a cable company affect what I can and cannot view on Netflix when I donít even have a cable subscription? I donít know guy, I just donít get it.

Canadians, like you and I, want to consume media when they want and how they want. This can mean streaming over an iPad or laptop or it can mean connecting your TV to Netflix and other streaming services or even just a standard cable contract. The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission) wants us to watch cable television and it wants us to watch commercials and it wants us to pay for channels we never watch and it also wants to force us to watch Canadian content programming (So many Murdoch Mysteries!) because the CRTC knows whatís good for us. Netflix used to be just a huge catalogue of TV shows and movies but recently it has started creating its own television content (House of Cards et al) and more recently just announced that is getting into the movie business as well. Netflix announced they will be producing the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and releasing it at the same time it will appear in theatres. Adam Sandlerís production company has also just signed with Netflix to make four films starring Sandler himself and some other jerks probably.

Now that Netflix is slowly starting to become a content creator instead of just a content provider, the CRTC wants to come to Canadiansí rescue and demand Netflix start producing some Canadian content for us. Now, is Netflix a Canadian company? No. Do they even fall under the jurisdiction of a commission like the CRTC? Probably not. Theyíre Internet folk and they deal with the tubes. At the ĎLetís Talkí hearings Netflix told the CRTC that the Canadian content that did exist on their service (Republic of Doyle and reruns of Leafs playoff games) was doing quite well. The CRTC asked Netflix to provide physical proof but Netflix did not feel comfortable handing over their client information to them (burn!). The CRTC then got super mad and said that the presentations that Netflix and Google gave at the ĎLetís Talkí hearings would be stricken from the record! *gavel noise*

So what have we accomplished here? Relatively very little. Are Canadians beginning to have more power over how they watch and pay for the media they consume? Possibly, but itís still early days. Sure, there are more people who are choosing a bare bones cable subscription or no cable at all combined with the wonderfully priced $8 per month Netflix rather than going with a cable plan more similar to mine where I pay a premium fee to watch live English soccer games and International Cricket matches on cable while still also paying $8 per month for Netflix and giving the password to the rest of my family. The tide is slowly turning though. People want to only pay for what they watch and they want to watch things at a time that is most convenient to them. This means more On-Demand type options and less channel bundles that include one channel you love and five others you hate (who watches Slice?).

Finally, and most importantly, we as media consumers are learning that change is going to come through how we spend our money and not from some government commission like the CRTC. They try and throw their weight around but they have none. Theyíre a paper tiger and their roar is scaring less and less people each day. Canadians also believe that great Canadian programing will probably find an audience in Canada and around the world because itís good and not because the CRTC made companies produce shows about Newfie detectives and Calgary horse farms. For too long the CRTC has tried to protect us from ourselves but through online services like Netflix weíve found a way to protect ourselves from the CRTC.

Jason Lee Norman

Jason Lee Norman

Jason Lee Norman is a writer with a beard. He is the 2014 Writer in Residence at the Edmonton Public Library. He is obsessed with keeping his iPhone over 75% charged.

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