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Why Bell cried wolf on Amazon Prime Video

Phone company executive’s “confirmation” was self-interested fear-mongering.

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Bell and Amazon Prime Video:

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Don’t look now, but Dec. 1 has come and gone and there’s no Amazon Prime Video in Canada. At least not officially, not yet.

But what about all the reports over the past week that it was happening? Well, there are two culprits to blame for this particular misunderstanding.

First up is Bell, or more specifically Mary Ann Turcke, head of the company’s media division. She provoked a spate of headlines by stating at a CRTC hearing this week that Amazon’s video launch was indeed two days away, on Dec. 1.

She then compounded that claim by telling journalists after the hearing that Amazon Prime subscribers had been notified of the impending move. As per The Hollywood Reporter:

Outside the hearing room, Turcke told reporters Amazon had notified its Prime members they will bring a streaming video service to Canada on Dec. 1. “It feels a little bit like a soft launch, much the way we did iHeart [Radio], so we’ll see what happens,” she said.

As far as I can tell, that’s not true. I’m a Prime subscriber and I didn’t get any notification to that effect. I asked around with other Prime customers and they didn’t receive anything either.

This is where the proverbial grain of salt come into play. Turcke’s comments came at a hearing where broadcasters were arguing for the renewal of their television licenses. Such events are typically opportunities for said broadcasters to air their grievances.

And air them Turcke did. Her Amazon prediction came in the context of complaining about how Bell will soon have to compete against the U.S. company for programming rights:

“Now, a new global OTT [over-the-top] competitor — Amazon Prime — is entering the Canadian market in two days. So it’s not just our fellow Canadian broadcasters who will try to outbid us for first run, original programming, but it’s Netflix and now Amazon, two entities that are not subject to the same regulatory requirements as us and that have astronomically more buying power than we do.”

Anyone who regularly listens to these CRTC hearings recognizes this as the time-tested tactic of a Canadian company invoking the foreign bogeyman to get a regulatory break. Whether that bogeyman ever comes to pass doesn’t really matter – just mentioning the barbarians at the gates is often enough to gain some more protectionism.

When contacted, a Bell spokesman walked back Turcke’s comments. “I suspect she was referring to the various media reports about the soft launch and that Prime members could access the service in advance,” he said. “I don’t think she meant anything official had been communicated.”

The second culprit in getting people to believe that Amazon’s launch was imminent is, as usual, The Big Bad Media. Several outlets categorized Turcke’s comments as confirmation:

amazon, bell

Such headlines are obviously incorrect. There are almost no circumstances in which one company can confirm another’s product or service launch, especially not a competitor’s. Believing Bell on something Amazon is doing is like believing Samsung saying the next iPhone is launching on a given day, or vice-versa.

To be clear, Amazon’s service isn’t officially open for business in Canada until Amazon says it is.

That said, the service is quasi-unofficially available to Canadians. It’s only a matter of time before Amazon Prime Video does officially expand. The company is spending billions on content, which can only be recouped by adding many, many more subscribers.

Moreover, Netflix’s launching of offline downloads the other day – thereby matching an Amazon Prime Video feature – is another good indication that an expansion is indeed coming.

It’s definitely a better signal to bank on then Bell’s patently self-interested comments before a regulator.

2 Comments on Why Bell cried wolf on Amazon Prime Video

  1. Netflix and Amazon don’t buy first-run regional rights to programming developed by others (ie ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX) like Bell does. Both those companies bid on first run programming much further up the food chain against the same sources Bell buys from.

    The real answer here is instead of complaining about the scraps the big global dogs leave behind for it Bell needs to invest more heavily in creating its own (CanCon) content and selling those rights to others for non-Canadian markets. The big reason Shomi went out of business is it never really created it’s own content. It’s a lesson Netflix learned when HBO refused to sell them rights to Game of Thrones and caused them to outbid HBO for House of Cards. From there Netflix learned rather than chashing other people’s content you are better off chasing the talent, giving them money and freedom and then owning the results.

    As rights shift from regional to global Bell, Rogers and Shaw backed Corus will either learn on be pushed out of the business.

  2. You make a good argument, but I believe your solution is flawed. Netflix and Amazon compete with other broadcasters by outbidding Canadian broadcasters for rights to shows they both want and commissioning the best programming they can find from the best creators they can find. Canadian broadcasters will only be able to compete against these other providers by doing the same, (i.e. Spending more to acquire rights and/or commissioning original programming from the best programmers they can find, (which are not always or even most often CanCon programming unfortunately). Absent government regulation, very few CanCon original programs are profitable on even a global basis.

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