Sunday, October 9, 2016

Can Canadians stream TV without eventually going to unauthorized sources?

In an earlier article discussing how Bell's CraveTV wasn't competative with Netflix, I suggested I would try to watch a few shows via the streaming sites offered by Canadian broadcasters. The shows I listed were:
  • Flash season 3 premiere: Tuesday, October 4 at 8E on CTV
  • Arrow season 5 premiere: Wednesday, October 5 at 8ET/PT on CTV Two
  • Legends of Tomorrow season 2 premiere: Thursday, October 13 at 8E on CTV Two
To this I was planning on adding a few more:
  • Supergirl season 2 premier: October 10 at 8E/7P on Showcase.
  • Once Upon A Time season 6 premier: Sunday September 26 on CTV
  • Marvel's Agents of Shield season 4 premiere was on Tuesday, September 20 on CTV
Episodes are only available for streaming on CTV GO (App and website) for less than a week.  I didn't have a chance to catch up on season 5 of Once Upon a Time, and the first episode of season 6 is already locked down to only be viewable to BDU (Broadcast Distribution Undertakings -- Cable, Satellite, Bell IPTV branded as FibeTV) subscribers.  Even though I am a subscriber to CraveTV, another Bell property, CTV GO won't let me sign in using my CraveTV ID.  I can't seem to find any mechanism to subscribe to CTV GO as a separate service.

Last week I was in Fredericton for a conference.  The hotel Wifi wasn't fast enough to stream television, so I didn't watch any streamed programming.  This means that I missed the second episode of Marvel's Agents of Shield, which is now locked down only to subscribers , having watched the first episode a week earlier on CTV GO.  I am now blocked from watching future episodes this way as I can't watch episode 3 without having seen episode 2 for long-form narratives such as these shows. Yet again, Bell won't allow me to pay money to subscribe to a service that would allow me to catch-up on the missing episode.

I'm left in an all too familiar situation.  I can drop watching those two shows now that they are unavailable to me as a Canadian, or I can find the missing episode from some unauthorized source (either legally in another country, or in a way that infringes copyright) in order to continue watching the season.  It would only need to be a few episodes to allow me to catch up and then continue watching the "authorized" way.

This is a reality that politicians and other policy makers need to understand: people are driven to unauthorized sources because they aren't given the option to subscribe from authorized sources.  While there may be a tiny fraction of people who infringe copyright because they don't want to pay, I firmly believe the vast majority of copyright infringement happens because legitimate methods to pay are not offered.

I have already proposed multiple times a simple legislative change to solve this type of problem, in the form of a modernization of the fair dealings aspect of Canadian copyright:
Fair dealing for non-commercial uses of works not otherwise offered for license under reasonable terms is not an infringement of copyright.
This would clarify that Canadians going to alternative unauthorized sources would not be an infringement unless there was a legitimate authorized source made available to them.

I don't believe this would encourage activities currently considered copyright infringement.  It would instead provide necessary incentives to copyright holders and their licensees to work harder to make the content available via legitimate authorized sources such as:

  • Broadcaster services such as CTV GO would have a mechanism for paid subscription independent of any BDU service.  This was already done with CraveTV and Shomi, which are owned by the same companies that own the streaming services in question.  When CraveTV and Shomi were launched they were also tied to a BDU service, but that mistake was corrected.
  • Fix some of the flaws with Canadian streaming services that allege they are trying to compete with Netflix -- the obvious being that they should make seasons of shows available via CraveTV and Shomi closer to when the seasons are being broadcast.
  • At the very least CraveTV and Shomi logins should work as an alternative to a BDU login for broadcaster provided services such as CTV GO which is owned by Bell along with CraveTV.  The relationship between Showcase (Corus, spun off from Shaw) and  Shomi (Rogers & Shaw) is more complex, but deals could have been reached with appropriate incentives.  This could even be offered as a premium add-on to these streaming services if the broadcasters didn't want to deal with subscriptions directly.
This policy would obviously reduce copyright infringement, but I believe it might have saved Shomi from being closed.   Redistributors need to make their streaming services more valuable to Canadians so more of us will be encouraged to subscribe, not continue to make these services more frustrating to use.

Canadian redistributors need to stop thinking of streaming services as a competitor to OTA and BDU broadcasting.  While there may be some overlap, they don't don't have the same potential customer base. I am no more likely go to backwards in time to subscribing to a BDU than I am to go backwards in time and ride a horse to my job in downtown Ottawa. Making streaming annoying in Canada won't drive me to a BDU, but it may eventually drive me to unauthorized sources.

So far it is two shows down, and it will be interesting to see how long the 4 remaining will last.

Today I watched the first episodes in the season for Arrow and Flash.  Before I left for my trip I purchased the first season of Supergirl in DVD form, binge watched it, and am now ready to watch season 2 of Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow.

All 4 of these shows are from the DC comic universe, exist within the same Arrowverse, and will have a 4-way crossover this season.   It will be very frustrating if I am forced by the broadcaster to stop watching one or more of these series given their inter-relationship and the fact that there have been and will continue to be crossovers between the shows.

I am curious what alternative sources other Canadians have found for all 6 of these shows, as I'm skeptical I will make it through the entire seasons of any of them without needing to get a few episodes from elsewhere.

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