Thursday, September 22, 2016

Three Solitudes: Scripted video (TV) producers, BDU/Telecom, and fans. #DigiCanCon

Reading The Netflix Backlash: Why Hollywood Fears a Content Monopoly feels so disconnected from my experience as a fan of the works of scripted video (television) productions.  There are things I agree with, but the solutions being proposed are disconnected and in my mind counterproductive.

I too fear a distribution monopoly, and I think it is a problem that Netflix is largely alone in their market.  As much as the legacy BDU and telecom industry can claim that CraveTV or Shomi are "Canadian" competitors,  they are not in the same market.

Netflix originals offers me programming that is available to me at the time of public release, is made available in all markets (doesn't block Canada for Netflix originals), and is available on all the devices I own that I'd ever want to watch television on.  It even passes the "wife test", meaning it is a technology which someone who doesn't love to spend time playing with technology all the time would be willing to use.  My wife uses Netflix quite often.

CraveTV offers programming greatly delayed from public release (months or years later, after plots have been spoiled by other fans -- often around or even later than DVD releases), is often the reason content is blocked or removed from Netflix, and CraveTV barely works on a tiny subset of the devices I own.  It isn't a technology my wife would ever use, even if I could explain the contortions you have to go through to get video up on our television using CraveTV.

At one time I thought that HBO would be offering competition, but that never happened.  While a streaming service exists in the USA, it doesn't in Canada -- and this isn't surprising given HBO Canada is owned by Bell which has demonstrated it isn't interested in offering a Netflix competitor.

I would love if there were competition for Netflix, but it is highly improbable that this can be offered by companies which are part of the BDU (Cable/Satellite) or telecommunications sectors.  There are extremists representing those sectors who think of the creative works we are fans of as no different than "Happy Meal Toys", and have no concept of the impact on the personal identity of fans that some of this programming has.

I don't want Netflix to open up an exclusive window for exhibitors, whether for theatrical releases for movies or exclusivity for legacy broadcasting.  I am tired of being treated as a second class citizen by the broadcast industry which thinks that this exclusivity somehow benefits them financially, and then whines when people go to unauthorized alternatives when the content isn't available to them (infringing or out of geographic region sources).  Fans are willing to pay (badly want to support future creation in many cases), if only the intermediaries weren't treating them hostile and making us feel violated like we are paying kidnappers whenever money goes to these intermediaries.

We are at a time when the government is asking our opinion on things such as Digital CanCon, but those discussions also seem divorced from my experience.  An article in the Globe and Mail suggested that, "Canadian content is losing ground as services such as Netflix and Apple Music are expanding".   If that is true, then we need to recognize that so-called "Canadian" intermediaries such as Bell and Rogers are the problem.

There are Canadian produced shows I have been recommended that I have not watched.  An example is Orphan Black.  It is available on Netflix in other countries, but not in Canada.  In the USA it is available on Amazon Prime's streaming service, but in Canada Amazon Prime is only only the expedited two-day delivery service for physical products.  I could get all 4 seasons on DVD, but given all the other great programming I'm already paying for why would I?

Oh, and only the first 3 seasons are available on CraveTV, but I'm not interested -- it is a horrible streaming service technologically that I'm only willing to put up with for content I'm already a fan of. This is a series produced in association with Bell Media, which further amplifies the paying-kidnappers type violation feelings as Bell is the reason the content is so hard to access.

Making content easier to access should be a top priority for Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly and the Department of Canadian Heritage. It isn't only about selling Canadian content to an international stage, but actually selling it to Canadians as well. This doesn't mean forcing Canadians into an outdated delivery mechanism (broadcast television) and its delivery time frames (IE: broadcaster tied streaming services where episodes disappear days later).  This is content available to all Canadians starting from the time of public release to be viewed at a time of their choosing and on the devices of their choosing.

This means offering Canadian content on Netflix-style services -- and until there is actual competition, that should include ensuring that Canadian content is available on Netflix Canada.   It should go without saying that the government should be legally protecting the use of VPNs to bypass inappropriate region restrictions, not legally prohibiting them.

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