By Frank Moher
I have lately begun to feel that I am ten again, and living in Edmonton in 1965. In those days, we had two TV stations, CFRN and the local CBC outlet. It was also in that year that I first travelled to California with my family to visit our American cousins. Besides Disneyland, our relatives had colour TV and good shows. Not crappy Canadian shows like “Chez Helene” and “Royalite Windfall,” but shows like “Captain Kangaroo” and “American Bandstand.” It’s possible we got “American Bandstand” in Edmonton, but it would have been in black-and-white, and that would have sucked.
Forty-some years later, it’s 1965 all over again. A revolution is going on in TV programming and delivery, but here in Canada we can only look on. Or rather, we can’t look on, as most of the programming in question isn’t available to us.
Take hulu.com, NBC’s venture into YouTube’s territory. Pissed-off with YouTube for some corporate reason, NBC decided to open up its own video streaming service. Try to use it, though, anywhere outside the States, and you get this:
So, I try to find a way to download the first season of the TV series “Jericho” for my wife for Christmas. Yes, I could buy the DVD, but the point is I don’t want to have to leave my house or acquire a piece of plastic to do this stuff. I find, to my delight, that the internet TV service Joost carries a bunch of episodes. Great; that means I don’t even have to download it. But no, even though Joost has staked its success on being an international service, here in Canada we’re not allowed to watch “Jericho.” I wonder if they get to watch it in Guam.
This leaves me to steal it via a torrent download, then rip the file to some format playable on my computer, hence streamable to my TV. Note, though, that I am ready and willing to pay for the content; please, makers of “Jericho,” take my money! Note, too, that I don’t really want to spend hours transversing various video codecs just so I can put a damn TV show on my TV.
The reason we can’t access these shows in Canada is something called “geo-bounding,” by which their availability is restricted based on your computer’s i.p. address. This, in turn, has to do with various distribution agreements. Which would make perfect sense, if the Canadian carrier of “Jericho” made it available online. But as far as I can tell, no Canadian network even carries yon show anymore. So who’s going to be out of pocket if I, a Canuck, watch it on Joost?
What’s that, you say? Watch it on the CBS website?
What’s that, you further say? It’s just a TV show, and not exactly Emmy-material at that? Get a grip? Yes, but this is a labour-of-love, remember. I’m downloading it (or trying to) for my wife. She likes it. So I’m motivated. But I might be able to better put things in perspective if the same restrictions didn’t apply to all the other means of delivery I’ve tried for this and other content. iTunes. Xbox. Amazon. Even Zune. All extremely slim pickings for anyone who doesn’t come from the right digital neighbourhood.
I may have to go down to my sister’s in Seattle and download a bunch of stuff and bring it back. Do I have to declare bits and bytes at the border? Whatever, I’ll do it. But I’m telling you: it’s 1965 all over again.