How Streamers Exiting the Canadian Marketplace Could Fuel Online Piracy

Streamers seem to be increasingly looking for a Canadian exit in light of the Online Streaming Act. Could piracy see a rise as a result?

Lobbyists in Canada have been working overtime to make up for the catastrophic failure of the Online News Act. With Meta’s exit from news links sharing and the Google deal only fetching $100 million, news media companies are generally operating at a loss of approximately $130 million per year. Generally speaking, they are now shifting their focus back to the Online Streaming Act in the seemingly vain attempt to somehow make up the difference despite the presence of the rest of the broadcasting community also fighting over the fantasy of free money heading their way.

The problem there is that history is shaping up for a repeat of what happened with Meta in the Online News Act. Last year, Disney+ halted investments in Canada in response to the Online Streaming Act. Others, during the CRTC hearings, openly worry about financial stability operating in Canada. Several streaming platforms are also operating at a $5 billion loss. Some smaller streaming platforms are even going so far as to not bother participating in the hearings. While it’s unlikely that an across the board exit of all streaming platforms is going to happen, a bad ruling at the CRTC would make several streaming platforms head for the exits.

The enormous harm this would have on Canadian consumers is well known. In fact, these warnings have been voiced to government bodies for some time now. The problem is that those warnings have, thus far, fallen on deaf ears. What’s worse is that there is little hope that the CRTC – the Canadian poster child for regulatory capture – would be any different. This given the fact that the CRTC seems to view the interests of consumers as something of a foreign and confusing concept to begin with.

One subject that is often brought up is that Canadians would simply grow more reliant on the use of anonymous technology such as VPNs to circumvent the geoblocking that seems destined to ensue for several platforms. So, for instance, if Disney+ ultimately pulls up stakes and exits the countries, Canadians would use VPN services to restore access to the platform. This isn’t exactly a well guarded secret as Canadians have been known to do this for some time now. There is, however, two problems with this. The first problem is that it adds a barrier of technological know-how (which VPN service can get me to access American Netflix?). The second problem is that it also adds an additional financial barrier as reliable VPN services typically cost money.

The first problem involves a little time and troubleshooting – or, at the very least, a good friend that knows these things and can get you through this process. It’s not exactly a massive barrier to overcome. The money issue, however, can very easily be an even tougher barrier to overcome. With the skyrocketing costs of everything, Canadians find themselves more cash strapped than ever before. Many Canadians typically find themselves forgoing basic necessities such as appliances or even a properly functioning vehicle just to make ends meet. Many Canadians feel that home ownership is increasingly unlikely as homes that once cost $50,000 can end up costing as much as $600,000 today. In a time when wages are continually being suppressed so as to make basic living seemingly unaffordable, the concept of subscribing to a VPN service can seem like a luxury that can’t be afforded.

So, what is an option for Canadians if a VPN service is unaffordable, but they still want to access some of these shows on a streaming platform that has left the country? Piracy.

Yes, things like BitTorrent and one click hosters still exist. For Canadian’s that have kicked the habit of downloading everything for free, there’s no doubt that some will return to that “old friend”, piracy.

Now, people reverting to piracy in light of all the streaming services available today isn’t anything new. Indeed, there was a time when there were only a few options for streaming platforms. This made it easy for consumers to simply subscribe to a service or two and get everything they wanted. Problems began to arise when several broadcasters and producers decided that they should just create their own streaming platform, wall off their content, and rake in that extra cash. This created a situation where there was lots of services, but each one costing money for a subscription. Generally speaking, having to pay half a dozen subscriptions to get the content you want has been a pretty unattractive concept for a lot of consumers. This scenario resulted in someone producing this very accurate comic strip:

It’s something of a stark reversal to a trend that happened just a few years earlier. Indeed, when I started writing news for websites like Slyck and ZeroPaid, my primary focus was on things like file-sharing. A big part of the problem was that organizations like major record labels and movie studios stubbornly refused to respond to the technological change unfolding before them throughout the 2000’s. So, in response, rather than create an online service that competed with piracy, they chose to, instead, send in fleets of lawyers to sue anyone and everyone out there with a pulse (in some cases, even a pulse wasn’t necessary to litigate). The calls were clear: reform your business model to respond to the internet age. This was rejected as movie studios and major record labels, at the time, believed that they can sue everyone back to the technological stone age of people buying LPs at the record store en-masse.

Other businesses cropped up such as Apple (with iTunes), Spotify, Steam, GoG, and Netflix to actually fill that marketplace void otherwise filled by piracy. Deals were eventually inked and online offerings were finally available. While the store setups were far from perfect (the existence of DRM continues to be a major stumbling block), it did finally create an environment where consumers could ditch the pirate hat and purchase things legally online. As a result, piracy wound up experiencing a decline, proving the critics right about the need to make offerings online.

With too many players today in the marketplace (coupled with far too many exclusives), however, consumers are starting to slip back to their old piracy ways because the convenience factor has increasingly dried up. Is there any one place that you can subscribe and get everything you want? The service that has the best shot at that might be Steam in the gaming sector, but for video content, there increasingly isn’t.

While this is a problem we are already witnessing, what would happen in Canada if several streaming services were to exit the marketplace altogether because the cost of doing business is too high? Some lobbyists might mistakenly believe that those consumers would simply flock to their (often stale) alternatives. This may be some of the quiet thinking on the part of some lobbyists, but the reality is that consumers have gotten far too used to getting what they want in a convenient manner. Consumers aren’t just blindly consuming any video content. People have preferences. If your offerings don’t cut it, it’s not a viable alternative to them.

This will likely result in an increase wave of piracy. People will find themselves jumping back onto private BitTorrent sites or re-learning how to use Usenet to grab the shows they are missing. Who knows? Maybe USB stick sharing might become a thing as well. Either way, if there are shows consumers want to watch, but the service they are on is no longer available, they are just going to start finding alternatives to get that show. Whether it is through VPNs or piracy, Canadian consumers are likely going to be getting what they want one way or another.

Generally speaking, it’s very easy for streamers to upset the apple cart of consumer expectations. A certain show getting pulled or an offering going exclusive on another service is more than enough to get tempers flaring. This isn’t even getting into a major service pulling up stakes and geo-blocking a whole location because the government decided to be an idiot and listen to conspiracy theories from their lobbyist pals while ignoring expert testimony and evidence.

Either way, nothing about any of this screams “major financial windfall for the major Canadian producers and broadcasters”. All it does is hurt Canadian consumers who are forced to take on legal grey area solutions – or just flaunt the rules altogether and download it all instead. What’s more, a multi-decade long problem could very well flare up again all because some in Canadian leadership decided to screw the pooch. In that scenario, we can point to a specific point in time and point out how the situation was entirely self-inflicted.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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