A couple days ago Netflix announced that it would be raising its subscription prices in Canada, causing a collective groan in my native land. The company’s reasoning was, the usual “to serve you better” spiel you get when you’re about to pay more for the same services. Because, really, has Canada ever received anything but the short end of the stick when it comes to access to media content?
Netflix gave two vague justifications for the move, neither which is a particularly strong. The first reason noted was that the service is currently aggressively investing in original programming, so if you want the really good stuff you’re gonna have to pony up the cash to get it. At face value, it makes sense. In the last few years, Netflix has helped produce some incredible original movies, shows, and miniseries. I’d pay twice the Netflix subscription price to watch The Master of None alone.*
But think about it for a second. One of the biggest complaints that Canadians have with Netflix Canada is that we get only a fraction of the content that Americans do for the same price. Actually, given the different dollar rate, we’re technically paying more for less content. As Canadians we know why that is because media companies having been telling us their reasons enthusiastically and for a very long time. We’re a relatively small market with fairly tough regulations on foreign content yada yada yada. This translates to the fact that generally speaking, it’s too much of a headache and too expensive for a media company like Netflix to provide Canadians with a comparable amount of content. We’ve learned to live with it.**
The same reasoning though should then be used by Netflix not to raise our subscription prices, no? We are, after all, a small market. How big of a dent can we put into the production of another Netflix show, let alone support Netflix’s ambitious original programming route? If we begin paying more for slightly more content (although, at this point we haven’t been promised to receive more content but to contribute to the financing of the production of more content), but still receive significantly less content than our American neighbours, what about this arrangement is fair to Canadians? Netflix is simultaneously treating Canadians as both a significant market (we’re soooo important to help support content production) but also an insignificant one (we’re not important enough to receive the same value for the prices we’re asked to pay). I think Canadians will agree with me that we’ll accept it if Netflix treats us either way, but Netflix has to pick a way because we’re nice, not stupid.
The second argument they gave doesn’t hold much water either. After years of being met with one of those “This content is not available in your region” errors every time I want to view a show or even a clip of one, more streaming services (CBS All Access is one) are finally entering the Canadian market. And in the true spirit of capitalist competition, they’re driving prices down. No. That’s a lie. According to Netflix, competition is actually driving prices up.*** Apparently, as more competitors enter the Canadian market, they are fighting more over content and driving prices up on it. And users are the lucky ducks that get to foot the bill. At least, that’s what Netflix is saying.
To buy this argument we’d have to completely overlook a number of issues. One is that in the U.S., there are already a number of streaming services that are competing for content, which has not resulted in significant price hikes for subscribers. So what makes Canada so special?
Second is the fact that we’re living in an era of Peak TV. The amount of content — good content — has grown exponentially in the last decade.**** We’ve never had as much content now as we do today and the number of TV shows being produced is growing each year. To believe the argument that Neflix puts forth we’d have to assume that there’s a very small pool of good content that people would pay a streaming service to watch….and that is not even remotely true.
We would also have to overlook the fact that the number of media conglomerates that produce the vast majority of content can be counted on your hands (your one hand, to be precise). I can’t even think of a TV show that has been produced without full or partial backing of a media conglomerate. Better yet, many shows are produced with the backing of several conglomerates.***** That means that while a level of competition does exist, we cannot underestimate the extent to which media producers can and do collaborate with each other.****** So when anyone (i.e., Netflix) tries to convince the public that media producers are in a to-the-death battle over content, rest assured it’s sophistry.
At the end of the day, most Canadians probably won’t grumble too much over the hike in prices. I’m not particularly upset either. Even the Canadian version of Netflix at its new prices is well worth the money. What bothers me is that Canada is so often used by media companies as a testing ground to see how much b.s. users are willing to take before they push back or quit. Media companies should understand that insulting the intelligence of its users and testing our loyalty is a dangerous game because, while they may create the content, there are far too many options out there now to access it. Honesty with users is imperative if loyalty and respect on both sides is the goal. Netflix’s latest P.R. rhetoric did nothing of the sort.
*lol just kidding, I’m a millennial, I can find any and all media content for free
**nah, we complain all the time
***I bought The Wealth of Nations just to spit on Adam Smith’s face every day
****There’s an episode of The Vulture TV Podcast that covers the topic of Peak TV extensively…..go there for more info on this
*****yay, ultra-rich team work!
******Why TV is not Our Fault by Eileen R. Meehan is a little dated, but scary. It’s also an important read on this fun tidbit. And believe me, the dated part makes the media industry seem less scary than it currently is.