Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Movie Network is the New MTV

The demise of Movie Central and apparent bankruptcy of Super Channel has all but confirmed what I always knew: Premium channels have become as irrelevant as old-fashioned music channels. That's not to say the likes of Revolt, Fuse, and even MuchMusic have become old news, or more worthless than premium channels. Once upon a time, we relied on Much and MTV for our music fix. But overtime, the internet would provide a more faster, convenient way to get the latest news and music videos. So, Vevo and Spotify became the new standards for finding new music, while the music networks found success in other entertainment ventures, often incorporating it with what little music programming they have.

Now history is repeating itself. Netflix and Hulu have been slowly eating away at the precious subscriber-base HBO and Showtime have spent years building. Game of Thrones is HBO's number one show, but's also the most pirated show in the world. Showtime's series don't get that much, but there's no denying that cord-cutting is a thing. It's not the end of cable television, but they'll need to evolve to better compete with the increased competition. Hence HBO Now, which essentially turns HBO into a premium streaming service, and Showtime's bundle with Hulu. Now, in addition to the standard cable model, the two channels have found a way to connect directly to cord-cutters.

You'd think Canadian networks would follow in their footsteps in this pick-and-pay era. If you do, then you must have been living under a rock for the last six or so years. 

When competing against The Movie Network and Super Channel, Netfilx has it in the bag, because most of our premium networks were run by old men in suits who refuse to try anything new. By now, CraveTV should have offered next-day streams of the acquired programming that we came to see. Instead, Bell Media still expects you to shell out tens of dollars to The Movie Network, on top of your already expensive cable bundle, and stream their shows through a restricted on-demand channel or through a shitty TV Anywhere app. The ease, the accessibility, the easy money and notoriety CraveTV could have gotten by now: they don't have it because Bell Media is too stubborn to face the future.

All of the above is what's plaguing Super Channel, and why they've filed for bankruptcy, but it doesn't end there. From the beginning, Super Channel was competing against premium network shows with basic-cable product. I'm not slinging mud at Rizzoli and Isles, Spooksville, and especially Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I'm just saying they expected you to pay tens of dollars for shows that air on more affordable networks in the U.S. I wouldn't be surprised if more people watched the off-season encores on Showcase television than the new episodes airing on Super Channel.

The Starz and movie deals, as well as Canadian original programming of their own, were exactly what Super Channel needed, but they were also the last thing they needed. Everything has become too expensive for them because Super Channel itself was too expensive for new costumers. The ultimate irony for me is that Super Channel wasn't just put into check by The Movie Network. There's one other pay TV channel we often overlook: Family Channel.

In case you don't know, or simply forgot, Family is a premium service, but it's bundled with basic cable channels like YTV and Teletoon and treated as such. However, just like Super Channel, Family Channel also airs basic cable product: from Canadian shows to acquired Disney fare. Since its a channel for kids, they don't have to worry about cord-cutters too much, even though teenagers are a fickle audience to please. As long as they keep churning out hits like The Next Step and Degrassi (which should have ended after MTV and TeenNick cancelled The Next Generation, but I digress), they won't be left in the dark. When all is said and done, the only reason why Family is acknowledged as a higher-tier channel compared to YTV and Teletoon is because their own premium licence means they don't have to air commercials. 

In the era of pick-and-pay, Family Channel is no different than Super Channel or The Movie Network; if the people want it, they will subscribe to it. That's why both services need to find a way to evolve and be more accessible. In danger of going off the air, Super Channel is doing just that; by first evaluating what works and what doesn't. Meanwhile, Canadians are more than ready to pay directly to HBO and Showtime, because The Movie Network and CraveTV just aren't a good enough substitute. I don't believe Game of Thrones will be the end of The Movie Network, I believe it will be the end of cable as we know it.

And while all of this is going on, Netflix is still chilling in the background. For all the flack Netflix Canada gets for lacking the beefier offerings the Americans get, there are still more people subscribed to it than any premium channel. Contrary to what the pirates would have you believe, we're fine with whatever shows we're allowed to legally stream on Netfilx. Of course, we'd be even happier if geo-blocking was never a thing, since anti-consumer polices are the major cause of piracy to begin with! 


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