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Netflix: Converting Canadians One Subscriber at a Time

I’m a Canadian and I use Netflix. Does that make me any less of a Canadian? What if I prefer American to Canadian content?

In a recent battle between Netflix and the CRTC, Netflix won.  This should come as no surprise. Netflix has revolutionized the way in which online streaming operates. Its popularity and appeal reaches the homes of an estimated 6 million Canadians, yet this cannot be confirmed since Netflix refuses to publish its viewership information. However, while it definitely facilitates the accessibility of television and film content, it disproportionately and unilaterally does so for American content only. This could pose a threat through the declining interest in Canadian content. It is for this very reason that the CRTC was imposing for stricter regulations and demanded to access viewership details, yet they never got those numbers.

The CRTC is striving to protect and enshrine Canadian values and culture through the promotion of specific content. Yet, it would appear as though their efforts in rigid broadcasting regulations are becoming both fruitless and irrelevant. The reason for this fruitlessness and irrelevancy is not so much because their efforts are misguided but more because these is a sense of apathy towards the cause on behalf of the public. The CRTC wants to make sure there is no deviation from their broadcasting regulation, as a means of promoting Canadian culture. Yet, Canadians are opting for and preferring American shows and movies; proposing stricter regulations is not going to change their preference. Netflix has created a zero-sum arena in which Canadian broadcasting suffers and American production prospers. Governments ought to preserve their unique culture. However, the extent to which they can do so, without limiting and infringing upon freedom of their people, is a fine line.

Netflix does offer its Canadian subscribers Canadian content that specifically reflects its national heritage. In fact, in a report submitted by Netflix’s director of public policy, it was stated, “Canadian content was thriving online”. It raises the question of whether the CRTC is simply taking precautionary measures or whether they feel Canadian content is actually significantly hindered.

Although the CRTC has not been satisfied with the recent outcome, perhaps it can look forward to the new alternative that will be offered to Canadians. Netflix has been available in Canada since 2010 and for the past four years it has remained unrivalled. In early November of this year, Rogers Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc. will launch Shomi, with the prospect of dethroning Netflix in the Canadian online streaming market. Shomi promises a 30% dedication to Canadian content, and it is no surprise that the CRTC favourably encourages the development of this alternative. Yet it remains uncertain whether or not Shomi will be able to eclipse the success of Netflix.

Technology is constantly and rapidly evolving, which makes culture a difficult thing to safeguard. Its fragility is juxtaposed against digitalization and globalization, 2 forces that strengthen and re-affirm the notion of a centric, uniform and dominant American culture. This is something that Canadian culture is not able to neither withstand nor prevent. In fact, digitalization and globalization are not mutually exclusive; they work in tandem to strengthen the availability and speed through which information is propagated. This raises interesting issues with regards to the CRTC’s ability to impose censorship.

Media and Internet governance is an intricate and complex phenomenon, making it extremely difficult to regulate. The multiplicity of actors in play coupled with the vastness of the web make for a limitless forum. Imposing standards of control for media content does not seem like something that would be favourably looked upon in a democratic society. What happens should the CRTC choose to shutdown Netflix in Canada? It can almost be said with some certainty that many individuals would circumnavigate this barrier by opting for some technical hacks to simply change their VPN. It would simply be a superficial quick fix, rather than to tackle the root of the issue. Instead of directing their energy toward fighting time-consuming battles, perhaps the CRTC should focus on better Canadian productions. The long-term implications would appeal to the wider Canadian audience all the while compete against popular American productions. By shifting the focus toward the encouragement of Canadian production, then Canadian talent and creativity could be showcased. Values as a whole are a subjective entity. The way values are represented does not need to be so narrowly thought out and fit the pre-existing framework; anyways, it is probably out-dated. They say ‘if you cannot beat them, join them’. There is some truth to this. If there is a shift in the rhetoric and ideas around the meaning of values might prove to be more fruitful and appropriate to the rapidly evolving nature of the 21st century.

Image License: Some rights reserved by Shardayyy

About Chloe Giampaolo

Student of Political Science at McGill University. Born and raised in Montreal, Chloe has just recently rediscovered her love for her hometown’s architecture, fashion, cafes, restaurants, and culture; but most of all, its riveting politics. Her fascination with words and adoration of quotes has ignited in her a passion for writing, which she hopes to share with her fellow writers. She would like to raise attention to Canadian politics, more specifically that of McGill’s surroundings.

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