Who has the rights?

A look at how stream­ing ser­vices are con­fus­ing view­ers

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY DAVID FRIEND

Marie Con­cep­tion was three sea­sons into the TV se­ries “Gos­sip Girl’’ when Net­flix yanked the en­tire show from its lineup.

Left hang­ing in the mid­dle of the teen drama’s juicy plot twists, the Burn­aby, B.C. res­i­dent says she ques­tioned why she signed up for Net­flix in the first place.

“You com­mit to pur­chas­ing Net­flix or CraveTV be­cause they have cer­tain shows,’’ she says. “It’s a lit­tle up­set­ting when they pull stuff out for what­ever rea­son.’’

The frus­tra­tion is all too fa­mil­iar for many TV view­ers. You’re in­vested in “Mad Men’’ or “The West Wing’’ when the shows sud­denly dis­ap­pear from stream­ing ser­vices overnight. Fans still com­plain about how “Lost’’ can’t be found, and “Fri­day Night Lights’’ went dark.

The rea­son TV shows or films are re­moved from stream­ing plat­forms can vary, though it al­most al­ways comes down to con­tent li­cens­ing “win­dows,’’ the set pe­ri­ods of time a com­pany gets the rights for a pro­gram.

Those con­tracts be­tween a stream­ing com­pany and a TV or film dis­trib­u­tor are noth­ing new — they ex­ist for tra­di­tional broad­cast­ers, too. But in an era where many peo­ple stream much of their en­ter­tain­ment, what’s avail­able is sud­denly a big­ger part of the con­ver­sa­tion.

How long a stream­ing li­cence lasts will vary de­pend­ing on the show or movie. Many con­tracts are signed for around a year, es­pe­cially for films, which guar­an­tees ser­vices like Net­flix have a steady ro­ta­tion of con­tent from some of Hol­ly­wood’s big stu­dios.

TV se­ries can have an even longer li­cence that stretches for sev­eral years and cov­ers a num­ber of sea­sons. Some­times, those rights switch to an­other ser­vice; other times they ex­pire and dis­ap­pear into the dig­i­tal ether, es­pe­cially in Canada where many pop­u­lar shows aren’t avail­able to stream.

The con­fu­sion over where to watch their favourite TV shows isn’t likely to sub­side for Cana­di­ans any time soon. Next year, CBS Corp. plans to en­ter the mar­ket with CBS All Ac­cess, po­ten­tially hold­ing onto cer­tain li­cences for TV shows it has a stake in, in­clud­ing “The Big Bang The­ory.’’

When Disney rolls out its stream­ing plat­form in the com­ing years, there’s a good chance it’ll even­tu­ally keep its most valu­able new con­tent for it­self, rather than li­cense it to Net­flix Canada. Those ne­go­ti­a­tions are still open, and Net­flix could make Disney an of­fer too at­trac­tive to refuse.

All of these de­ci­sions are part of on­go­ing talks that don’t af­fect view­ers un­til they no­tice some­thing has gone miss­ing from their stream­ing li­brary.

Mike Cosentino, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of con­tent at CraveTV, of­ten hears the mes­sage loud and clear when he makes the call on what to stock on Bell Me­dia’s plat­form.

“At the end of the day, if we do our jobs well enough, we’re re­new­ing con­tent that has a con­sumer ap­petite and rein­vest­ing in new con­tent,’’ he says.

But it isn’t al­ways up to CraveTV, Net­flix or Ama­zon Prime Video which en­ter­tain­ment they can li­cense.

For in­stance, view­ers have urged Net­flix Canada to stock up on past sea­sons of “Game of Thrones,’’ but the block­buster TV show is owned by HBO, its big­gest com­peti­tor. Bell Me­dia owns the li­cences the HBO con­tent in Canada, but hasn’t made them avail­able on any stand­alone stream­ing ser­vice. Con­fused yet?

Things get even more com­pli­cated when you turn to Net­flix Canada, who bought li­cences for TV se­ries like “Riverdale,’’ which ap­pear on the plat­form shortly af­ter they air on U.S. tele­vi­sion.

Those li­cences aren’t cheap and the bat­tle for con­tent is get­ting more ex­pen­sive.

Josh Scherba, ex­ec­u­tive vi­cepres­i­dent of dis­tri­bu­tion and con­tent at DHX Me­dia, says the Toronto-based kids TV maker watched the value of its shows climb over the past five years as more stream­ing com­pa­nies bulked up their vir­tual shelves. With more com­pa­nies en­ter­ing the mar­ket, the bid­ding in­creases.

“We think for the fore­see­able fu­ture that’s go­ing to con­tinue,’’ Scherba says.

Ul­ti­mately, con­sumers will prob­a­bly foot the big­ger monthly bill. Net­flix Canada is al­ready rais­ing its monthly sub­scrip­tion by a dol­lar or two say­ing it’s partly due to ris­ing costs for buy­ing con­tent and mak­ing its own orig­i­nal se­ries.

But stream­ing com­pa­nies might have some ex­plain­ing to do when the li­censes for some of their “orig­i­nal se­ries’’ end in the com­ing years.

Net­flix brands a se­lec­tion of its con­tent as “Net­flix Orig­i­nals’’ even though it doesn’t ac­tu­ally own all of them out­right. Both “House of Cards’’ and “Or­ange is the New Black’’ are owned by out­side stu­dios who li­cence multi-year win­dows to the stream­ing ser­vice.

AP PHOTO

“Gos­sip Girl” ac­tor Leighton Meester is shown in a Novem­ber 2012 file photo. Marie Con­cep­tion was three sea­sons into the TV se­ries “Gos­sip Girl” when Net­flix yanked the en­tire show from its lineup.

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