Timothy M. Denton

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A billionaire speaks about Netflix, and reflections on CanCon

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Multibillionaire Barry Diller used to be chairman of Paramount in the 1980s and has now moved on to the Internet, being the head of Expedia and a number of other ventures. He spoke about the leadership of Netflix recently in the most favourable terms in a recent interview in the New York Times. His thoughts are relevant to those worried about Canadian content.

After the expected virtue signaling about the evil Trump and Diller's chosen instrument, Hillary Clinton, he got down to business.

He says that Netflix and Amazon have blasted Hollywood into “a completely different universe.”

“It’s something that’s never happened in media before, when Netflix got a lot of subscribers early on and made the brilliant decision to pour it into original production, like spending more than $100 million dollars to make ‘House of Cards,’ instead of buying old stuff,” he says. “It blows my mind. It’s like a giant vacuum cleaner came and pushed all the other vacuum cleaners aside. And they cannot be outbid. No one can compete with them.”

He calls Reed Hastings, the C.E.O. of Netflix, the most remarkable person in the media business: “He has so much original thinking in so many different areas, he’s really impressive.”

 

It is obvious but it needs to be said: the entirety of media businesses, even the most powerful, have been basted into a completely different universe, not just the hot-house flower of Canadian television. Terence Corcoran was commenting the other day about the lunacy of the Competition Bureau investigating the recent arrangements Torstar and the National Post chain have made with each other.

He wrote:

some of us in the newspaper business — and some in the legal community — wonder about the thinking within the bureau when it launches a full-blown and expensive attempt to enforce “competition” in an industry — newspapers — that is in the midst of a roof-removing hurricane of actual competition.

Thus I noticed the other week that I had been watching both a Vancouver-made Canadian television series and a Toronto-made one. Both successfully competed for attention against the firehose of digital content coming at us through Netflix and CraveTV. No, they did not resort to little Canadian flags on the desks; and yes, they were ostensibly set in Seattle and Chicago, but they were thoroughly Canadian from actors through producers through scriptwriters, and Canadian in feeling. Were they promoting Canadian values? I doubt it, at least not explicitly. They were, however, telling stories effectively. These programs let Canadians speak to the world through art, and be paid handsomely for doing so.

The problems that need solving in domestic television production are what, exactly?

 

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.

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Guest Thursday, 19 April 2018
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