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Why don’t American TV shows air at the same time in Canada?

Why don’t American TV shows air at the same time in Canada?

Rami Malek and Christian Slater star in the hit cyber-thriller Mr. Robot.

As Mr. Robot approaches its first season finale — “zer0-daY.avi” in its stylized sorta-hackery episode titles — it’s pretty much impossible to guess how the series might wrap up its twisty, digital-cloak-and-daggers game. Well, impossible for me to figure out, at least, because I — probably, but not definitely like you — live in Canada, and despite the fact the show has been praised as everything from the first realistic depiction of hacking to a cornerstone of the strongest season of summer television in some time, it isn’t on the air here. I think it starts September 4, if I recall the Showcase subway ad correctly.

Mr. Robot is, of course, not the first victim of the odd vagaries of American television being broadcasted in Canada  — Rectify, a painfully brilliant and sorely under-watched Sundance Channel drama, is even more unappreciated here, where we won’t be getting its third season until … October or November, maybe? Nor is it even the most annoying. That crown goes to trying to watch promoted clips on the internet, where we have somehow figured out how to prevent people from watching a video because of their location but run into an insurmountable wall when it comes to hammering out a licensing deal that would allow these companies to split revenue based on said location, or at the very least a script that could automatically sub-in the video from the appropriate rights holder for your area.

Mr. Robot is probably the most fitting example of how profoundly out-of-step the current Canadian broadcasting regime is. It’s a show intimately tied in to both large and subtle questions that have arisen because of internet culture — or so I have read on the myriad American publications I have exactly zero trouble accessing, even from way up here — ostensibly locked away because legacy media still doesn’t really have a handle on computers.

Unlike CraveTV, though, this is a frustratingly stupid reality that isn’t entirely the fault of blinkered corporate monoliths — or at least not our homegrown blinkered corporate monoliths. There are a variety of reasons why shows don’t air simultaneously up here, whether that delay is a few hours or well after a season has actually ended.

Occasionally, it’s just a matter of our big television media companies not wanting to compete with themselves. Compared to the United States, where even the big media players only own a handful of channels, and rarely more than one of the marquee networks, which remain notably independent in programming choices — Time Warner has HBO, TBS and Cartoon Network, AMC packages in Sundance and BBC America with its flagship channel, Fox owns FX plus its news and sports networks — in Canada the entire spectrum is effectively divided between Bell, Rogers and Shaw, with each hoovering up content from multiple prestige networks from the States. Rather than have those high-profile shows fight tooth and nail like they do south of the border — think of the glut of quality television that pops up every Sunday — up here networks have the option of keeping, say, True Detective from airing at the same time as Masters of Sex.

This kind of jockeying is pretty much entirely responsible for the minor changes in schedules: when things are off by an hour or a day, but otherwise airing pretty much concurrently. The more profound switches — the not-even-airing-the-same-month stuff, like Mr. Robot and Rectify — can sometimes be because of this, for reasons that are entirely beyond me, but also often owe their incongruity to the occasionally arcane world of licensing. In the latter case, it basically comes down to whether the show — or miniseries or movie — is produced by the channel the big Canadian companies are typically buying from, or is being distributed by an independent producer.

Most of the time, it’s pretty much a straight-across-the-board deal: HBO Canada has the rights for all HBO-produced content. Occasionally though one of these networks will not produce the show, but buy it from someone else: to stick with HBO, that’s what happened with both the Scientology doc Going Clear and the Kurt Cobain doc Montage of Heck, both of which debuted on the American channel, but had theatrical runs here, and still have yet to air on TV up here. In those cases, separate licensing deals have to be struck, and though programmers generally aim to keep the Canadian networks as analogous as possible, economics don’t always allow for it. Netflix, for instance, has both more money and can make more attractive deals — worldwide distribution, baby — than virtually any individual Canadian channel (which can be planned broadly but are generally budgeted separately).

There’s not much Canadian companies can really do in the separate licensing case. You would think production companies would want to take advantage of the overwhelming media push that comes from airing things concurrent with the States, but Canada is ultimately a niche market compared to any U.S. (let alone wider international) deal, so there’s only so much we can do to sway them.

What’s baffling is why any Canadian company would willfully delay the run of a show. Not only are they missing the reflected attention of America, but unlike those independent production companies, who make all their money in the selling, they’re also potentially losing a large — and young — audience.

We can pretend the morality of downloading/streaming/IP masking is still a functional debate if we want, but even if we do, you’re giving up an awful lot of practical ground when you’re flat-out denying people the chance to watch a show that is a literal click of the button away the instant it airs in America. You’re never going to compete with these methods on price; it’s blisteringly ignorant to also give up convenience.

This is maybe not a comfortable truth for the large media conglomerates, but it’s at least the most practical one: when even your hit shows are about people who essentially live their lives on the internet, it’s maybe time to admit that a good number of your potential customers are doing the same.

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