Wednesday, 21 April 2010

F@*& You Canadian Simulcast! I Wanna Watch Lost!!!

Last week, I read a fascinating article on Tech Crunch about how hundreds of thousands of Americans had pulled the plug on paid cable and satellite subscriptions and instead, were turning to alternative methods of viewing their favourite programs. The article reports that more than 800,000 people had opted to cease feeding the beasts of the mega cable-coms in 2009 and that number was expected to double by the end of this year. The rise of internet sites like Hulu, (not yet available north of the border) Netflix, broadcaster websites, or iTunes has shifted more individuals away from the big screen and placed them squarely in front of their computers.

Cord cutters don’t yet represent a serious threat to the $84 billion cable/satellite/telco TV access industry, which counts an estimated 101 million subscribers. But they are a leading indicator of the shift to TV viewing on the Web. The cord-cutters make up less than 3 percent of all full-episode viewing on the Web. The rest comes from people who are only beginning to watch occasionally online. An estimated 17 percent of the total weekly viewing audience watch at least one or two episodes of a full-length TV show online. Last year, that percentage was 12 percent, and next year it is forecast to grow to 21 percent.

While the trend is small and I seriously doubt if the big guys are quaking in their collective ivory towers just yet, it does show that a certain segment of the population is fed up with huge cable bills in exchange for crappy service and 500 channels that are never viewed.

While we Canadians don't have the myriad of online options available to us just yet, due to archaic content and funding models, I am certain that many of us are also looking for ways to break out of the monopolistic iron-grip of Ted's company and Ma Bell. The number of comments concerning uncaring and over-priced telecoms to forums like this one are growing exponentially each day, and complaints registered to the CRTC are usually answered with an automated form letter and promptly ignored. (I know this particular humiliation first hand!) For the last several months, we up here in the north have been caught squarely in the middle of a dirty and escalating war between big cable and local channels concerning fee for carriage. We have been bombarded with ads, jingles, and irritating rhetoric all the while knowing that whichever side prevails, it will most definitely cost us consumers more in fees. The greed of these multi-billion dollar enterprises knows no limits. But, believe it or not, the one thing that seems to irritate us the most is not skyrocketing fees or channels that carry nothing. The major complaint amongst Canadian viewers in simulcasting.

Simulcasting is an out-dated model by which the Canadian networks that purchase American programs are permitted to substitute their signal for the original, thus allowing local sponsorship of said shows. Canadian law allows for slightly more advertising per hour and, believe me they sell every permitted second. This practice usually causes strange edits and odd cuts. (like characters uttering half a thought before the commercial and the other half after!) But the absolute worst experience in simulcasting has to be when one Canadian network cuts into a station several minutes before they are supposed to and disrupts the beginnings or ends of major programs. Such was my LOST experience last evening.

Regular readers of this space know how I feel about LOST. It is without a doubt in my mind, the finest hour I have ever spent with TV. It is coming to a bittersweet end in 4 weeks, and as such every single minute of every single remaining program is absolutely sacrosanct to me. Last night, as I settled in to watch, the recap of last week's episode began on ABC. (These recaps are incredibly important for continuity.) Suddenly and without warning, CTV (our Canadian carrier of LOST) cut in for their simulcast. The problem was that American Idol (which tends to run over a few minutes every week on their feed from FOX) was still in progress. As CTV continued to show the end of Idol, we Losties were truly f@#*ed. There was no other station to turn to, and we missed the first 5 minutes of the show. I immediately received a tweet from Older Son that went straight to the heart of the matter. He spoke for many when he said "Once again I say, f@#* you Canadian simulcasting!!!!!" When CTV realized their error, they tried to fix it by cutting back to ABC, but the damage was already done. (My guess is that they were flooded by angry viewers threatening them with a one-way ticket to the island!) LOST is one of those truly unique shows that needs to be seen from beginning to end, and once again somebody got greedy at the Canadian network.

It used to be that the first and foremost complaint about simulcasting was our inability up here to view the Super Bowl commercials. The internet has certainly calmed that small irritant, but this abuse of power by the Canadian networks is holding the entire viewing country hostage. Honestly, if I wanted to watch Idol, I would. It seems to me that if they can't resolve their own programming issues (like wanting or needing to simulcast both shows back to back that don't run on traditional hourly schedules) they should allow the original feeds to remain in tact. The fee-for-carriage battle will suddenly seem like telecoms' last hurrah. Everybody will be watching on the internet.

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