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Broadcast regulator’s dealings with Netflix reveal its dated outlook

Photo by Zach Verret

When I started watching Netflix about a year ago, I was amazed that such an inexpensive service gave me access to a wide array of movies and TV shows. I wouldn’t be able to legally access most of these programs without ordering an expensive cable package with useless channels I would never watch.

Before Netflix came on the scene, the major pogromming battles were waged between big television networks like ABC and NBC, and premium channels like ShowTime and HBO. But with the popularity of Netflix shows such as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, serialized television through the Internet has become fiercely competitive with network and cable programming.

Netflix’s rapid expansion has also attracted the attention of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC), which wants to have Netflix regulated in order to financially support Canadian content.

The CRTC recently ordered the American-owned video streaming service to disclose confidential subscriber information. The organization appears justified in this action since their mandate is to regulate national broadcasting and ensure programming reflects Canada’s opinions, values, and world views.

The commission decided not to take legal action against Netflix for refusing to submit this confidential subscriber information. Instead, they just decided not to include Netflix in future discussions regarding the possible alterations of television industry regulations.

The CRTC’s decision to completely ignore Netflix reveals its waning authority in the area of regulating television content. Streaming services are becoming increasingly popular every year, with recent reports from early 2014 indicating up to 29 per cent of English Canada subscribe to the service, almost double the subscriber rate from 2012. The more traditional broadcast regulators resist this change, the more they run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

Moreover, the CRTC should not dictate to consumers what they are able to watch on TV or the Internet. It deprives the consumer of choice and makes the entertainment industry in Canada less competitive. Promoting Canadian content should not be the responsibility of the CRTC. Rather, the Canadian entertainment industry, along with Canadian artists, should be given the incentive to create public demand through developing unique, compelling programs in their own right.

In fact, the Canadian entertainment industry can benefit from a service like Netflix.

For one thing, studies have suggested that Netflix discourages online piracy, having already curbed the trend of illegal downloading since its launch as a streaming service in 2008. It’s a feat the entertainment industry has failed to accomplish, despite years of trying to enforce tougher and tougher anti-piracy legislation.

Secondly, Netflix provides Canadian entertainers and creators with a superb vehicle to distribute their product to the masses. This is certainly the case with the Canadian mockumentary series Trailer Park Boys, which was recently resurrected on Netflix through an eighth season that reunited pretty much the entire original cast and crew. Through Netflix, this uniquely Canadian television property will also be subject to a full ninth season and growing popularity across North America.

By pretending that Netflix doesn’t exist, the CRTC are just exposing their outdated look on the entertainment industry and are depriving Canadian artists of a valuable platform to have their voices heard.