Entertainment

TV is taking the fight to Netflix — but you will end up paying the price

As more streaming services are launched by US and UK providers here in Canada they'll chase costly original programming. Guess who will pay for that?

Netflix has chased original programming, such as reportedly paying Chris Rock $40 million for comedy specials, which has had an impact on its bottom line.

MARK J. TERRILL/AP File Photo

Netflix has chased original programming, such as reportedly paying Chris Rock $40 million for comedy specials, which has had an impact on its bottom line.

This week’s bump in the price of Netflix in Canada and CBS’s announcement that it would launch its All Access streaming services here next year suggest that consumers might end up shelling out more for online content even as the lineup of digital viewing choices expands, industry watchers say.

After burning through cash in its most recent quarter as it invested in content to fend off challengers, U.S.-based Netflix announced Thursday that it is hiking prices by a dollar to $10.99 a month for new members in Canada effective immediately, and will do the same for existing users in the coming weeks.

The increase was unveiled after Disney said it would remove its content from Netflix and launch its own direct-to-consumer service — and after CBS announced its All Access plans.

With the CBS announcement — and once U.S. video on demand service Hulu follows suit as expected — all the major U.S. broadcasters will be streaming directly to Canadians, technology commentator Michael Geist wrote in a recent online blog. Meanwhile, U.K.-based DAZN in July said that it would offer its sports streaming bundle here.

While a single subscription-based service still represents a fraction of the average cost for a cable or satellite TV package, streaming providers such as Netflix will continue to nudge up prices even as more mainstream media companies take the streaming plunge, said Brahm Eiley, president of Victoria-based Convergence Consulting.

Meanwhile, the growth in options raises the possibility that consumers will binge on streaming services — particularly since they can typically be set up and cancelled without initiation charges or penalties — which could push overall costs higher than those paid for a basic cable subscription.

But such growth also highlights the potential for what FX Networks CEO John Landgraf has dubbed the era of peak TV, where a glut of content choices leads to viewer fatigue and even a pull-back on services.

“Once people start to choose from a sea of content, they reach a point of exhaustion,” James McQuivey, the lead analyst tracking the development of digital disruption at Forrester Research said in an online post.

Put another way, said Ryerson University instructor Irene Berkowitz, “they can’t manufacture more time” for people to watch.

With more and more players streaming into the market due to what CBS CEO Leslie Moonves calls the Netflix envy effect, some analysts have speculated about irrational exuberance and winners and losers in a sector that could become rife for consolidation.

But Canada remains far less saturated than the U.S., even with the advent of new offerings, and as such Eiley said more limited domestic competition has given conventional TV distributors “more time to milk the traditional model.”

While the U.K.’s Ovum Research this week said that by year end more than 20 per cent of audience viewing hours will be delivered via the Web, the latest audience survey from Media Technology Monitor shows that 75 per cent of Canadians still have a paid TV subscription.

And a separate report from Media in Canada said the number of Canadians watching online video remains stable after a big jump in 2015.

That study, which gathered responses from 4,000 Anglophone Canadians in fall 2016, found that 83 per cent of respondents were online video viewers, a total that has remained virtually unchanged over the last two years. The most popular kind of online video content was on YouTube.

Nevertheless, there’s speculation that the arrival of U.S. and U.K.-based streaming services could spur domestic competitors such as Bell to add to investment in online content.

But creating original content to differentiate your streaming service in an increasingly crowded marketplace costs money, as Netflix has shown by creating exclusive series like House of Cards.

Netflix has also reportedly signed comedian Chris Rock to a $40 million (U.S.) contract and paid Jerry Seinfeld $100 million for two stand-up specials and rights to his series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, costs that could ultimately be passed down to consumers.

Analysts note that a good chunk of the TV content seen in Canada is U.S. produced and licensed by domestic service providers such as Corus, Bell and Shaw.

Bell Media, for example has rights to the CBS All Access exclusive TV series Star Trek: Discovery which will air on the company’s CTV English-language conventional TV network in the fall before it finds its way to Crave TV, Bell’s digital TV subscription service.

Eiley suggested that the expected launch of a stand alone English-language streaming service by the CBC next year that would allow access to live TV and archival material would have a big impact on any ramp up of online Canadian content spending.

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