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Discovery Inc., the parent company of international TV brands such as Discovery Channel, TLC, HGTV, and Food Network, announced in late 2020 that it has begun launching "discovery+" (officially stylized in lowercase – though we will not necessarily be observing this here – and pronounced "Discovery Plus"), an over-the-top streaming service focused on non-fiction programming from across Discovery's brands. The service will include exclusive programs featuring the likes of Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, Joe Kenda, Chip and Joanna Gaines (of the forthcoming Magnolia Network, a joint venture with Discovery), and spinoffs of TLC's 90 Day Fiancé franchise.
Discovery+ had already quietly launched in a few countries around the time of this announcement, and is launching in a few more in 2021, including the United States on January 4, 2021.
However, Canada is not mentioned in the announcement among the countries where Discovery+ will be launching in 2021, the discoveryplus.com website currently gives a "not yet available" notice when accessed from Canada, and most promotions for the service on media available in Canada (like TLC) have included the footnote "US Only" or similar. The @DiscoveryPlus Twitter account has also replied to requests from Canadians with messages along these lines:
In short, Discovery+ is not currently available in Canada (and we do not know if or when it will be).
Its current absence is most likely related to the fact that Discovery Inc. does not directly operate the Canadian versions of the Discovery Channel or most of its other TV channel brands. Instead, the Canadian rights to many of these brands, and their associated programs, have been separately licensed to two Canadian-based media companies which are fierce competitors with each other – Bell Media and Corus Entertainment (the specific channels operated by each company are listed further down).
So far, it seems that Discovery Inc. has decided to focus on launching Discovery+ in the countries where it already owns its channels directly, and deal with more complex situations like Canada later on. While the company has said that there will be a wider rollout of Discovery+ in the second half of 2021 and into 2022, the plans announced to date focus on Europe, where Discovery's Eurosport division owns broadcasting rights to the Olympics and the streaming service will figure into its coverage plans.
As things stand, with the rights to different Discovery Inc. channels divided between the two Canadian companies, Bell, Corus, and Discovery would all have to cooperate in order to launch the full Discovery+ service in Canada. Failing that, Discovery would have to wait until the existing deals expire, which might take several years.
In the meantime, the answer to the question at the top of this page – where will Canadians be able to watch Discovery+ programs? – is: we don't know. As noted above, Discovery does not seem to be forthcoming at this point about plans for Discovery+ programming in Canada beyond a vague "eventually" message. The same has been true so far of Bell and Corus. So the best we can offer for now are some informed guesses based on how similar situations have been handled in the past in Canada.
For example, looking at how other online extensions like "FX on Hulu" have been handled in Canada, we think it's possible that some of the current Discovery+ "exclusives" may air, for the time being, on the Canadian versions of the most closely related TV channels. That would mean shows like Bobby and Giada in Italy could air (and we emphasize could) on Food Network Canada, while nature series Mysterious Planet could air on the Canadian versions of Discovery or Animal Planet. Even then, they might take several months to appear here.
Update (March 21, 2021): At least one such spinoff, BattleBots: Bounty Hunters, is now scheduled to air on Discovery Canada on Sundays at 8:00 p.m. ET starting March 28. This seems to be tied to the series also recently starting to air on Discovery Channel in the U.S., several weeks after its streaming release. (This was first brought to our attention by a poster on the DigitalHome.ca forums.)
For spinoffs of TLC shows like the 90 Day Fiancé franchise, the situation is a bit less clear, as the version of TLC available in Canada is the exact same feed distributed in the United States. However, even then, it's possible that TLC may preview or eventually repeat these sorts of spinoffs, or put them on its cable on-demand lineup for Canadian viewers, even if they're currently being marketing as Discovery+ exclusives (though so far, the most that's been announced along those lines so far are some pre-launch airings of specific premiere episodes).
That said, because of the sheer large number of original series, it's likely that at least some programs will remain unavailable via authorized means, until a potential Canadian launch of Discovery+ at some future date.
We will try to keep track of developments and post updates if there is major news related to these Discovery+ exclusives. However, because of the number of programs, it may not be practical for us to track each and every show that is or isn't available in Canada. For now, we suggest keeping an eye on the TV listings and on-demand folders for the channels mentioned here in case they end up carrying the shows you're looking for.
The Discovery+ Twitter account has also begun suggesting to Canadians that they sign up on this page for emails about future international launches.
Could Discovery+ launch a scaled-back Canadian version with programs not under contract, like TLC shows?
That could happen! But the offerings in that case might end up being very slim – just the handful of programs that Bell and Corus don't already have dibs on, which might not be much beyond programs from TLC like the 90 Day Fiancé franchise. And as popular as the latter franchise is right now, it may not be enough on its own to make Discovery+ viable in Canada.
We have no special insight on what Discovery Inc.'s long-term plans for Canada are. But – in addition to what we've mentioned above about focusing on regions where they own their channels outright – in regards to Canada specifically, Discovery Inc. may have concluded it would make more sense to wait to be able to offer a version with a fuller Discovery+ programming lineup, rather than offer only a partial version that would disappoint many and appear half-baked.
Where can Canadians access programs from Discovery's brands currently?
- Bell Media operates branded Canadian cable channels based on the flagship Discovery brand as well as Animal Planet, Discovery Science (based on the Science Channel in the U.S.), Velocity (now known in the U.S. as Motor Trend), and Investigation Discovery (or ID). These channels are not currently available on a pure over-the-top basis in Canada (unless you count app-based services tied to an Internet provider, like Bell's Alt TV and Telus' Pik TV), but TV service subscribers to the channels can access programming on-demand with TV Everywhere authentication on the Discovery Canada website and the Discovery Go apps. (A handful of programs from these channels, including various "Shark Week" specials, are also available on Bell's Crave streaming service.)
- Corus operates Canadian versions of Home and Garden Television (HGTV), Food Network, Cooking Channel, DIY Network, and OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. (Except for OWN, all of these brands were licensed from Scripps Networks until that company merged with Discovery in 2018.) Subscribers to HGTV and Food Network can access programs on demand on the Global TV website and apps, while cordcutters can access these two channels with a subscription to the StackTV add-on to Amazon Prime Video. The other Corus-operated channels are not currently available as part of a standalone over-the-top service.
- Meanwhile, Discovery directly distributes the U.S. versions of TLC (originally The Learning Channel) and American Heroes Channel (AHC) in Canada as permitted foreign TV channels. They were permitted because, at least at the time they requested permission, no Canadian channel was in operation offering similar programming and no Canadian company wanted to operate a similar channel. The TV Everywhere sites/apps for these channels do not currently work with any Canadian TV providers, nor are they available separately via any standalone over-the-top packages.
Again, there are no guarantees that any specific Discovery+ program will air in Canada on one of the channels listed above. But it appears to be the most likely scenario for Canadians for now.
Is there any government rule that prevents Discovery+ from operating in Canada?
No. There is no current law and no CRTC rule that would directly prevent Discovery+ from operating in Canada. Foreign ownership regulations that govern broadcast and cable channels in Canada do not affect Internet-based services. While changes to Canadian broadcasting legislation were proposed in late 2020, they are expected to affect the production and promotion of Canadian content by these services, but not their ability to operate, even with a foreign owner or external base of operations.
So, apart from whatever limits might be imposed by Discovery Inc.'s programming contracts with Canadian media companies, Discovery+ is free to offer its services here, the same as other American-based streaming services in Canada like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.
However, the reason Discovery and Scripps formed relationships with Canadian companies like Bell and Corus in the first place is because they would not have been able to bring most of these channels to Canada directly to traditional TV providers, due in large part to the foreign ownership regulations mentioned above. Those ownership rules remain in effect today for regular cable TV channels. And those ongoing relationships, in turn, seem to have tied up some of the programming rights that would otherwise have been available to Discovery+.
So it's fair to point out that if those rules were not in place, and Discovery Inc. and its predecessors had been operating in Canada directly all along, the company might have been in a position to bring Discovery+ here at around the same time as in the United States.
Of course, such a change might have had other consequences that at least some Canadian viewers would be less happy about. If Discovery or Scripps had been able to import their other American channels directly as with TLC, it's not clear whether the Canadian-produced shows that have become hits on the Bell / Corus versions of these channels – shows like Heavy Rescue: 401, Holmes on Homes, or Disaster DIY – would have ever been made. These aren't necessarily everyone's cup of tea, but it seems safe to say they would have left a hole in Canada's TV landscape.
- March 2, 2021 – minor update on the international rollout plans for Discovery+ (mostly in Europe, so far)
- January 31, 2021 – further minor revisions and clarifications (however, the overall situation has not changed)
- January 11, 2021 – revisions to make clear that we don't really know (yet) where these shows will be in Canada
- January 4, 2021 – section on (perhaps) why it's not launching in Canada with just TLC programs