Opinion » Cybernaut


Canada plays catch-up...



Recently the television rebroadcasting website Hulu announced that they will be launching their service on both the Xbox 360 and PS3, on handheld devices and built into the software of various net-ready televisions. They announced a new Hulu Plus service that makes any television show on any network they cover available for $10 per month (unlike the current free version of Hulu where you only get access to a few recent shows from any series). Hulu is already built-in to the popular Internet-television program Boxee and can be added to XBMC as well. Hulu is everywhere... except in Canada.

It's a revolution in television broadcasting that's as significant as the rise of TiVo and the DVR, an alternative to paying for cable or satellite services for a generation of low income technogeeks tired of paying $60 a month to channel surf.

However, it's a revolution that is completely bypassing Canada. There are a lot of different explanations why this is so, but it boils down to the fact that Canadian broadcasters don't want people watching content they themselves buy from U.S. networks without the Canadian commercials and network identifiers. Fair enough.

A few observers have also pointed out that Canada's Internet network is pretty much owned by the same broadcasting companies, and as a result there is a conflict of interest. These companies are currently making a bundle by selling people both cable/satellite and Internet services and would stand to lose a lot of money if customers started to cut cable.

There's also an issue of broadband capacity. Once our telecommunications companies give people the green light to watch television over the Internet it will put an additional strain on the networks, and those same companies will be on the hook for billions of dollars in upgrades.

Over the last 30 years the broadcasters have invested massively to create a nationwide cable network and they are not ready to abandon that investment just yet, especially when they're raking in huge revenues. And there's just not enough competition in our monopolized market to compel our broadcasters to change their minds.

While I understand and can empathize, it's disappointing to know that we're falling behind the times for reasons that could easily be remedied with a little creativity.

For example, why don't our national networks collaborate to create a Hulu.ca and licence a Netfliks.ca? That would require CBC, CTV, Global and other networks to come together and actually agree on something, but I think it could and should be done. Why?

First of all, because sooner or later their advertisers are going to demand it because the Internet is where their customers are going - with or without the networks. Secondly, while most networks do air some television shows online, the current viewer experience is awful and inconsistent and Canadians simply are not tuning in.