What the Netflix interface looks like on a TV. Image courtesy of Netflix.
Netflix is finally here, and it’s an excellent service for an excellent price—so long as you don’t necessarily care about the very latest movies and TV shows.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was in Toronto on Wednesday to formally announce the launch of Netflix Canada, which will allow users to stream television shows and movies to their computers, TVs, or internet-connected devices like video game consoles or iPhones.
Rather than a replacement for a cable or satellite subscription, Netflix is aiming to be a supplemental service—in part because Netflix simply doesn’t have the same range of programming or access to the newest shows and movies.
To wit: while Netflix can offer Canadians an unlimited number of Netflix’s seven thousand movies and TV shows, streaming online for $7.99 a month—and for the time being, you can also sign up for a free one-month trial—that selection is largely culled from older movies and TV. Some relatively recent films like An Education and Rachel Getting Married are there, but the bulk are from a year or two ago and earlier. The TV offerings are slightly better: new Will Arnett show Running Wilde is available, as are recent (but not current) seasons of Mad Men or Monk. Still, you’re just as likely to to find Emily of New Moon or older Britcoms like Fawlty Towers as shows from the 2000s.
Though you could simply use a web browser on your PC or Mac to watch what you want, Netflix is best when connected to a TV using a device like a Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii, or Xbox 360 (though the Wii version requires you to send away for a disc, and the Xbox app won’t be ready until later this year). Newer, internet-connected TVs and Blu-Ray players will also have a compatible application, and the iPhone and iPad have apps that allow you to watch what you want on the go. The service syncs across platforms, so a movie started on one device will pick up on another where you left off.
Despite the comparative age of the catalogue, then, Netflix certainly has some compelling advantages. The PC and Playstation 3 versions, which we tested this morning, are impressive. There’s almost no wait to watch once you’ve selected something, and the interface is slick, intuitive, and well organized. Quality depends on your hardware and internet connection speed, but on a fast set-up, the high-definition stream is sharp, crisp, and more or less indistinguishable from HD cable or satellite TV.
There are, however, other downsides. When Torontoist asked Netflix spokesperson Catherine Fisher about the company’s approach to Canadian content, she seemed unaware of the regulations involved in Canadian broadcasting. Though web-delivered services like Netflix aren’t subject to CRTC-enforced CanCon regulations, it’s still a bit worrying, and depending on how successful Netflix becomes and who else enters the market, they may find themselves subject to regulation if they raise the ire of the CRTC or Canadian content makers. For the time being, Netflix remains agnostic when it comes to a content’s country of origin, and the selection is based simply on what Netflix can license and what people want, Fisher said.
What’s worse—though no fault of Netflix’s own—are the reduced bandwidth caps that Rogers and Bell announced when Netflix made it clear, in June, that the service was on its way. Those monthly limits on bandwidth (the amount of data you’re allowed to download) mean that watching more than the equivalent of twenty or twenty-five movies in a month could put many Canadians over their allotted limits, subjecting them to additional charges. Though that might not affect most film buffs, it still puts a damper on Netflix’s “unlimited” streaming, arguably its most appealing aspect.
Still, for most users who aren’t concerned with the very latest films and shows, eight bucks a month for a decent selection on a fast, well-organized service seems like a great deal. While it might not be a reason to drop a cable or satellite package in and of itself, it’s hard to beat the value-for-price ratio that Netflix is offering, and it’ll be interesting to watch if, and how, Netflix changes Canada’s media landscape.