The Canadian TV industry seemed to discover the Internet in 2010.
In 2009 the CRTC held a hearing, as they like to do, where Canadian broadcasters explained there was no need to regulate the online space because streaming was complementary to broadcast, not competitive, and any broadcaster worth its salt would be able to navigate it without regulation.
In 2011 the CRTC held a hearing where Canadian broadcasters said it was imperative that the CRTC regulate the online space (the CRTC declined, delaying a decision until 2014 as scheduled).
I’ll give you one guess when Netflix entered Canada. Yup: 2010.
They had introduced online streaming in 2007 in other jurisdictions, but apparently the Canadian TV industry was caught unaware. Yet you didn’t need a crystal ball in 2009 to see where television was headed: you needed to read a newspaper. From a couple of years before. The 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike, for example, was driven partly by new media revenues.
Audiences and consumers were promised a re-imagining of the broadcast system with the 2014 hearing, but so far we’ve gotten more “the sky is falling” pronouncements from the usual suspects in their Let’s Talk TV presentations, breeding fear based on their own self-interest.
It remains to be seen what the CRTC will do in the aftermath of this year’s hearing, which saw Netflix decline to provide the CRTC some requested information, dismiss the CRTC’s authority over the US-based company, and have their presentation stricken from the record. That doesn’t bode well for the CRTC being visionaries in this area any more than the broadcasters were in 2009.
And then yesterday, Rogers announced that they are partnering with Netflix on a new series, which they call the first of its kind for the creation of a new, original series. Between is a six-episode “survivalist thriller series” which will air in Canada on City and Rogers’ new online streaming service Shomi, and on Netflix outside of Canada. A year after the initial premiere, it will be available on Netflix Canada as well.
Trailer Park Boys season 8 was actually the first Netflix original series to come from Canada, in the same vein as Arrested Development and The Killing which continued on Netflix but were not developed by them. With Between, Netflix is a partner with the independent producers and Rogers.
The Writers Guild of Canada for one is not cheering the deal, generating some further not-cheering from some who work in the industry online — though the WGC state they were simply asking a question rather than expressing opposition:
Those cheering Netflix/Showmi deal might note. Dollars for distribution, not creating #CdnTV. And what about Cdn tax dollars involved?
— Writers Guild of CA (@WGCtweet) October 20, 2014
The Canadian Media Fund clarified that dollars were for development. And Rogers and Don Carmody Productions, not Netflix, got those dollars, which would appear to be no different from any other co-production or co-venture or pre-sale, staples of the Canadian TV industry.
The Rogers/Netflix partnership is unusual in that Shomi is technically Netflix’s competition (though Netflix would probably scoff at that characterization right now, and Rogers is again talking complementary, not competition.). It’s possible the distributor Elevation Pictures will be able to sell only broadcast, not online, rights in the territories where Netflix operates.
Other than that, I don’t see much difference between a Flashpoint or Murdoch Mysteries or Orphan Black and, as the producers characterize it, this pre-sale that helped complete the financing before Rogers bought in.
Besides the fact that the foreign partner is online only, the deal is not unusual for Canada. And it’s not unusual for Netflix. Happy Valley, a terrific BBC series, was similarly financed and labelled a Netflix Original outside the UK. Norwegian series Lilyhammer was the first program to be offered on the streaming service using that model two and a half years ago.
Is it so inconceivable that a Canadian show in development — one that has Michael McGowan. Jon Cassar and Don Carmody attached — could interest a company who claims to be, and appears to be, country agnostic in finding original content? Why are some assuming that a foreign streaming service would have no interest in Canadian content unless that foreign company were trying to avoid regulation?
And why would there be any outcry over the tax money involved, when other foreign partners such as CBS, UKTV or BBC America aren’t subject to the same dismay?
Rogers and Between’s producers, at least, are willing to leverage the money and reach of Netflix for good, not evil. Yet the insinuation in some quarters has been that this is not a deal to celebrate, because Netflix.
The television industry isn’t just changing; it has changed. Partnering with established online services such as Netflix, Amazon and Google could be as much the future of our industry as other co-productions, co-ventures and pre-sales. But if we can’t imagine the future, let’s at least try to catch up to the present, Canada.