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This Apple Has 22 Shows

Well, it’s about time. Two years after launching downloadable television shows south of the border, Apple has finally flipped the switch here, albeit with a dearth of content. Single television episodes are available via iTunes for $1.99, and full seasons range from about $10–$30.
Most of the shows currently available are for domestic productions, like CTV’s Degrassi: The Next Generation and the CBC series Little Mosque on the Prairie, but non-Canadian shows, like South Park and The Hills, have also shown up. Content from CanWest’s Global, E!, and TVtropolis networks, however, is conspicuously absent. Global, CTV, and CBC already offer free, ad-supported shows online via their proprietary websites, to varying levels of quality and success.

Though customers have laid much of the blame for the delay on Apple, the company has been in a holding pattern due to contractual intricacies. An American network may not necessarily retain the rights to distribute the show internationally, nor would there be incentives for Canadian broadcasters to acquire a series if viewers could watch it elsewhere just as easily. This is also why cable companies switch to domestic feeds on American channels if a show is being simulcast, and why Canadians see shows like Project Runway months after they air in the U.S.
CanadianTVgrid.jpgAnd then there are issues about who gets paid for online content, which is the impetus behind the current Writers Guild of America strike in the U.S. Following a dreadful 1988 deal that blocked writers from receiving residual income from video and rental sales (on the basis of it being a non-lucrative and “unproven market”), the WGA wants to ensure that their members don’t get shafted on “new media” content, which includes iTunes downloads. Currently, there are no residual arrangements for content sold or distributed online—video-on-demand, smart phone “webisodes,” straight-to-internet content, IPTV, and streaming video. The Writers Guild of Canada does have a negotiable “digital production” jurisdictional agreement, though 265 of the WGC’s 1,800 members also belong to the WGA.
All of this makes securing distribution contracts incredibly difficult for Apple, especially when administered internationally. There may already be multiple interests holding international broadcast rights for a variety of “broadcast windows” (periods of time when a company may have worldwide exclusivity, or may only be allowed to air the show).
There are even more challenges for the company from Cupertino: if viewers are looking for episodes of The Office or House M.D., they’re gonna have to look elsewhere. During a recent, shockingly public negotiation, NBC and Apple locked horns over pricing, which saw the broadcaster pull all of its content from iTunes—which made up 40% of Apple’s television content—in favour of its own proprietary Hulu streaming service, and the abysmally useless (and PC-only) NBC Direct option. NBC’s move was especially caustic, as iTunes is credited in large part to saving The Office when it was in danger of cancellation. NBC head Jeff Zucker whines that Apple makes too much money “off the back of our content,” and the broadcaster really doesn’t like the idea of customers keeping digital copies on their hard drives—even with Apple’s relatively non-intrusive FairPlay copy protection. NBC wants to eventually charge more than two bucks per episode for megahits like Heroes, whereas Apple believes that $1.99 is a psychological barrier to the customer that shouldn’t be crossed. In fact, the company apparently wishes the price was even lower.
ituneslist2.jpgOffering downloadable television to Canadians is important to Apple for another reason: selling its Apple TV product. Apple TV is a tiny box that wirelessly streams iTunes content from a computer to one’s television set, allowing viewers to watch their downloaded shows on a proper TV screen. Announced last September when Apple simultaneously began offering downloadable movies to American customers, the digital media receiver was of little use to Canadians. Markham-based Apple Canada toed the company line and put it on sale in its stores with much fanfare, but without DVR capability and no downloadable content other than Pixar short films and YouTube clips, there wasn’t much point.
Some may believe that there still isn’t much point—Corner Gas, Canadian Idol, and Little Mosque excepted, domestically-created television doesn’t exactly draw hordes of viewers, and it’s hard to say how popular archival episodes of The Beachcombers might be with the young, tech-savvy crowd. Plus, with traffic shaping and bandwidth capping becoming the norm with Canada’s largest ISPs, the privilege of downloading shows from iTunes could ultimately end up costing a pretty penny.
Yet it remains a welcome and long-overdue debut. Content will undoubtedly improve relatively quickly, including the addition of American shows, and movie downloads and online rentals via iTunes are on the horizon for Canadians (the XBox Live Video Marketplace started offering downloadable flicks on December 11). For now, we’ll just have to keep our stick on the ice.


  • Dayfat

    The price point for a whole season seems to fall at or slightly above renting a season from Blockbuster or Rogers, but below buying it all on DVD. Of course, it really does need a lot more content than what’s up there now. Hopefully we’ll see it ramp up quickly.
    Also, anyone else find it odd that a 5-minute Pixar short goes for $2.29 but a 22-minute TV show is $1.99?

  • Marc Lostracco

    Yeah, I was going to put that in the article, but in the U.S. store, they’re in the Movies section, which we don’t have yet. They sell movies from about $9.99 and up, so I guess that’s how they’re classifying the Pixar shorts.
    Here’s the release from Apple, which I got after the article was published:

    We’re thrilled to bring television programming to the iTunes Store in Canada in time for the holiday season,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of iTunes. “We’re off to a great start with hit shows from CBC, CTV, Comedy Central and MTV Networks, along with the best of classic and current NHL action.”

  • Rajio

    So Torontoist is now posting spam from apple? thanks, just what i wanted this morning; more marketing.

  • Marc Lostracco

    I haven’t been in contact with Apple at all, but it’s newsworthy because it could greatly affect who sees Canadian television—most of which is produced out of Toronto—and how we watch it, rate it, and appreciate it (or not). There are a lot of issues right now with downloadable television, which are quite different in Canada versus the U.S., but we still have to usually follow what the Americans decide.
    With very little American content available via iTunes, and considering its popularity in the U.S., it’s undoubtedly a good thing for both the Canadian television industry and consumers. Personally, I’m planning on loading up my video iPod for my next plane trip, and if I rode the TTC daily, it might be worth it to buy a season or two of something to pass the time.
    The best thing it does is give Canadians more choice in how we get our entertainment, and this is one that favours Canadian content and is potentially good for our domestic industry. I still think $1.99 is a bit much, but at the same time, I might find $15 for a full season of something worth the premium if I’m going on a trip or if I missed it when it was on TV. Corner Gas is a bestselling DVD, after all, so it’s not like the demand for owning the episodes isn’t there.
    So, yeah…this is hardly a spam post from Apple.

  • Marc Lostracco

    By the way, I was going through the previews of Dragon’s Den, which I’ve never seen but looks pretty interesting. Anyone know if it’s any good? It seems like that show American Inventor, which was kinda meh. The guy in the Episode 9 preview looks like he’s about to have a cardiac arrest.

  • rocketeer

    I can’t stand the idea of watching anything on a screen smaller than the size of my hand (I do make exceptions for my Ninentdo). I don’t see why someone would want to pay for the privilege (or go one step further and buy AppleTV to stream paid shows from your PC to your TV rather than just watch it on your TV for free; VCRs might not be sexy but they still work). A little aural escape on the subway is fine, but it doesn’t hurt to interact with the world around you once in a while.
    Also, I’ve only ever seen one episode of Dragon’s Den and I didn’t care for it at all. It’s a little sad because most people go on there with their pitches and if it’s bad they get ridiculed and if the ‘dragons’ like it they get pressured to sell off 51% of the company. They’re not exactly giving out loads of cash either…

  • David Topping

    No “Train 48″? Pfft.