The other night, my husband and I settled down to watch a terrific new drama series, The Honourable Woman, on the CBC. After an excruciatingly painful hour, we gave up. I haven't watched a broadcast network in a while, and I was astonished by the gigantic number of commercials. Whenever the suspense began to mount, they broke away to ads for gigantic trucks and mini pads.
"I can't take it any more," I moaned. "Let's buy it from Amazon. Or wait for it on Netflix."
My husband agreed. The only reason we watch broadcast TV any more is for live sports. Even the news is dispensable. Who needs a 10 o'clock appointment with Peter Mansbridge (sorry, Peter) when it's all online?
In the past two years, our television habits have changed completely. We watch Netflix, drama series on DVD and Rogers On Demand, plus video streamed from YouTube. Right now, we're on Season 5 of Breaking Bad. (No spoilers, please.) Next, we'll catch up on Homeland, and by then there'll be another season of House of Cards.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, our beloved regulator, wants to regulate Netflix as if it were a broadcaster. A lot of other people want to tax Netflix so we can have more Cancon. The trouble is, we don't watch the Cancon we're paying for now – it simply can't compete. As someone commented online, it's the Golden Age of television – but Canadian broadcasters didn't get the memo.
In Canada, 3.5 million people already subscribe to Netflix – nearly 30 per cent of the English-language market. It costs $8 a month, or $9 for new subscribers. So why is our household still paying $125 for cable? Beats me.
No wonder the content producers and providers (the people who make the stuff and the ones who broadcast it) think Netflix will destroy them if it's not reined in. And no wonder they're playing the nationalist card as vigorously as they can. The way they tell it, Netflix is a greedy, rapacious multinational that plans to shake us down, suck hard-earned dollars out of Canada and wipe out future cultural treasures like The Littlest Hobo. If you need any further proof of this diabolical plan, here it is: Stephen Harper is on their side!
I don't exactly know why the Prime Minister is on Netflix's side. Maybe he wants to stick it to the CRTC and the CBC. Maybe he knows that 99.9 per cent of all Canadians who get Netflix just want to be left alone (judging by the online comments). It's probably both. What I do know is that campaigning against Netflix would be a poor idea for a rival politician.
As you know, the CRTC and Netflix are currently in a spitting match. The CRTC demanded that Netflix cough up its subscriber data (or else) and Netflix told the CRTC to go to hell. No one has ever told the CRTC that before. The CRTC retaliated by declaring that it would strike Netflix's testimony from the record, which is sort of like closing your eyes, putting your fingers in your ears and yelling, "Nyah, nyah, nyah, I don't hear you!"
But the game is over. The CRTC can't hold back the Internet tsunami; it's washing over all the land. I feel sorry for all the careers and business models it will upend or destroy. I also have an inkling of how it feels – after all, I work in the newspaper industry.
The music stores are gone. The bookstores are gone. The movie-rental stores are gone. Half the magazines I grew up with are gone, and half the rest are on life support. No one under 30 reads a physical newspaper any more. Yet we have more and cheaper music, books, drama, comedy and information than ever. So hands off my Netflix. It's great – at least, till something better comes along.