Two years back, in posting updates from the NATPE Convention, I estimated that Canadian television networks only had a couple of years to change their ways or they'd be swamped by upstart technologies. It appears that prediction is closer than ever to coming true.
To be honest, I've sensed something unusual was in the wind since the CRTC delivered its broadcaster friendly semi-decision on saving Local TV back in April and the CMF simultaneously issued new funding rules which also primarily assisted established broadcasters.
Instead of ramping up development of new programming, our nets instead took a conservative path into their immediate future.
Little new drama or comedy was announced for the Fall and Execs seemed more indecisive than usual about what they wanted, content to increase the episode totals of shows with ratings that would have doomed them to cancellation a season or two previous.
While there has never been a huge appetite for risk at Canadian networks, even innovation suddenly took a backseat to taking the minority partnership in foreign made co-productions or tweaking formats to include more cheap reality or lifestyle programming.
I also began noticing that newscasters (particularly on Global) often tagged a story with an invitation to find "more" on the network website. Perhaps that is an attempt to drive traffic to their internet presences. But it also carries the faint odor of defeat, as if they know their current approach can't begin to offer the context and content real journalism requires.
Can you imagine radio in its heyday ever recommending people buy a newspaper if they wanted all the news or TV in the Walter Cronkite era suggesting you pick up a copy of TIME or NEWSWEEK if you really wanted to know more about Man walking on the Moon? It wouldn't happen.
And as another example of this odd malaise, Heritage Minister James Moore had to issue a request to the networks last week to stop dragging their feet and offer a plan on the digital transition scheduled for next summer. It included a terse reminder of Government policy: "We need solutions that will encourage innovation and new approaches, rather than asking Canadian taxpayers to subsidize existing business models."
It's like our nets have given up. Maybe that's just the hangover from a tough couple of years or a symptom of the dog days of Summer. Or maybe they got an early head's up of yesterday's announcement that their own dog's day is about done.
Netflix, arguably the most popular video service in the United States has announced that it will begin streaming movies and television into Canada this Fall.
While not having a menu as all-encompassing as Google TV, which also launches this Fall but which has not yet applied for access to the Canadian market; Netflix doesn't require the purchase of any additional hardware to deliver its content.
You don't even need to own a computer. The system is configured to be accessible by video game devices, PVRs, blu-ray players and almost any HD television manufactured in the last two years.
What's more, what you download from Netflix can be watched on your TV, your computer or transferred to your laptop or smart phone so you can take it with you. You can even watch the same movie on your business flight at the same time the rest of the family is enjoying it at home.
And unlike iTunes or other subscription download services, subscribers pay a single monthly or annual fee that gives them access to everything in the Netflix library. That library currently includes more than 3000 films and thousands of episodes of popular television series.
The current American subscription rate is $8.95 per month. So I'll predict something in the $12.95 range for Canada.
That's basically the monthly cost of a bundle or two of tired Canadian movie channels. I mean seriously, how many times can you watch "Exotica" or endure its being programmed over an endless number of different genre channels or cable platforms?
It's also about the cost of renting a pair of the VOD titles that have become a major revenue stream for our cable companies.
Perhaps more important in the conventional TV realm, Netflix is one more entertainment alternative to further dilute the audience pool.
Our networks could have spent the last decade creating content that would have continued to have value and earn them money on emerging formats like Netflix. But they didn't. They opted to empire build and renovate palatial offices and in-house studios instead.
No amount of lobbying at the CRTC will alter the outcome of those ill-advised decisions now.
If you're a Canadian TV viewer who wants more for your entertainment dollar, you can register here to be notified when the service is available.
And for you Canadian creatives troubled by the troubles afflicting broadcasters, just remember -- we're only losing buyers who were always reluctant at best to get involved in what we offered. This new guy is going to need lots of fresh content to keep their subscribers interested.
We've got a future. The broadcasters who have ignored us -- not so much.