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Firms bet on appetite for online video Add to ...

Canadians have a healthy appetite for online video, and three companies now hope that aficionados will pay cash for the privilege of premium or broadcast content.

HBO Canada Thursday announced that its programs, including The Wire and The Flight of the Conchords, will be available for downloading for $2.49 an episode from the Apple Inc.'s iTunes Canada store.

It's a coup for Canadian fans of U.S. specialty TV, who were largely restricted through iTunes to buying shows like Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie, for which Canadian broadcasters already held the digital rights.

DVD rent-by-mail service Zip.ca last week said it is bringing streaming of some new DVD releases of movies and TV shows to its Canadian subscribers by Christmas.

"For this to gain wide acceptance, it needs to get easily to the TV," said Curt Millar, chief executive officer of Zip.ca. The company is planning on creating partnerships with companies that manufacture Internet-ready TVs to encourage Zip.ca customers to use the service.

And Microsoft Corp.'s xBox, primarily a gaming system, has been branching out into other media. Microsoft makes 400 movies available on demand for $4 to $8 through its xBox Live service, and the company is negotiating with studios to bring TV content to the platform by the fall.

"As we negotiate with any studio, there'll certainly be some content that will be limited to the United States. But there will also be some Canadian-only content," said Glenn Purkis, the product manager for xBox Live in Canada.

Online video consumption is on the rise around the world, and Canadians watch more than anyone else. ComScore reports that Canadians watched almost 33 per cent more videos online in April than they had two months previously, taking 858 minutes per viewer.

That puts their consumption ahead of the U.S., U.K., France and Germany, comScore said.

A good share of this is user-generated. While Canadians consume a lot of content, it's not yet clear whether, or how much, people are willing to pay for the convenience of having instantly available streaming TV or movie content, when it is already available on television or at the video store.

Bell Canada, for instance, is shuttering its Bell Video Store on July 15. The site offered more than 1,500 and classic TV shows for download or rental on-line at prices starting at $1.99. "The decision was to add value to Bell TV subscribers," said spokeswoman Julie Smithers.

The only streaming TV on the new Bell TV online service is the NHL Centre Ice package, and that's only available to viewers who already get the package through their Bell satellite TV subscription.

And in other news this week, Joost, an ad-supported streamer of TV and movies online, announced it was restructuring. The video streaming service, which provides some content to Canadians, will wind down, and the company will now focus on selling its video platform to other media companies.

A lot of U.S. broadcast content will continue to be unavailable online for Canadians until it comes out on DVD. Most video streaming from TV.com, a CBS venture, is unavailable in Canada, as is all of the content from its larger rival, Fox/NBC joint venture Hulu. Both services have agreements with TV studios that allow programs broadcast on several different networks to be streamed.

But one report suggests that Canadian demand for TV shows in particular is growing. SRG Canada said in a February report that "boundaries between TV/video brands, aggregators and social brands - where people post links to video content - are blurring." It said that 41 per cent of online Canadians now report having watched a TV show via the Internet, and half of these watch at least once weekly.

 
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