Posted February 9, 2020 • Last updated February 9, 2020

This Week in WCIW #1

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Welcome to This Week in WCIW, a (probably) weekly recap of news about broadcast and streaming content affecting Canada.

Hulu is finally going international... next year... maybe.

Disney is targeting 2021 for an international expansion of Hulu, per CEO Bob Iger on the company's quarterly earnings call this week. Hulu, the general-interest streaming service which Disney took full control of last year, has only been available in the U.S. (and Japan, though that operation has been independently run by Nippon TV since 2014). Iger did not elaborate on which markets may be first.

Iger noted Disney is starting to work now on the deals required to facilitate those launches (including, presumably, attempting to buy back the rights currently held by local broadcasters), but the target of 2021 is primarily based on an expectation that the Disney+ rollout will be mostly complete by then.

In Canada, many (though not all) of Hulu's original series to date have ended up with Bell Media / Crave almost by default, but not under the same kind of branded output deal under which Crave gets HBO and Showtime programming – so it's unclear how much Disney will be able to buy back. For The Handmaid's Tale, for example, Bell dealt directly with the producing studio, MGM. And Letterkenny – now branded a Hulu original in the U.S. – originated in Canada with Crave so it's unlikely they'd give it up.

On the other hand, one of Crave's more recent additions from Hulu, Dollface, was produced by Disney's ABC Signature Studios. Based on what's happened with Disney+, it's certainly possible that Disney has included a clause to allow it to pull back or share these rights once it expands Hulu internationally, but nothing has been confirmed to date.

And then there's FX, which will soon be part of a new "FX on Hulu" hub. With Canadian rights to the FX / FXX brands and programming previously licensed out by the former 21st Century Fox to Rogers, it's an open question whether Disney will try to pull those rights back, or let it be for now.

Incidentally, a lot of people apparently like Disney+, with 28.6 million subscribers across its (so far limited) territories as of February 3, less than three months after its launch on November 12.

Viacom enters the streaming fray, for real this time

The recently re-merged ViacomCBS is reported to be working on an expanded general-interest streaming service "build[ing] on CBS All Access", as first reported on February 6 by CNBC (and quickly backed up by others). It would combine CBS / CBSAA content with programs from other Viacom entities like Paramount Pictures, Comedy Central, and MTV, with Showtime content available on a premium tier. More details might come when ViaCBS announces quarterly results on February 20.

Up to this point, the expectation was that ViacomCBS would be more of a content "arms dealer", selling and producing content across multiple services, while operating a handful of comparatively niche services of its own like CBSAA, Showtime, and BET+.

CBS All Access is already available in Canada, though it's currently a more limited service than in the U.S., with many of the American service's original series licensed out to Canadian outlets (like Star Trek: Discovery and Picard on Crave, though it's retained repeat rights to several others like The Good Fight).

To be clear, it's not certain that an expanded "ViacomCBS All Access" (for lack of a better name) would carry over to Canada in the same way. But at least one Canadian media company seems to have been expecting it, judging from this recent Canadian Press interview with Bell Media head Randy Lennox. He suggested a future ViacomCBS offering would be in his top tier of expected streaming players in the Canadian market – alongside Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, maybe Hulu, and of course Bell's Crave.

Of course, Crave has been the main Canadian streaming home to Showtime, Comedy Central, and MTV content for the past few years. So reading between the lines, these pieces may be an indication that these rights may be starting to wind down – but also that Bell has likely been expecting it.

Odds and ends

  • Speaking of Crave, the Bell Media streaming service had 2.6 million subscribers as of the end of 2019, per BCE's fourth-quarter results – down from "more than 2.7 million" on June 30. That may rebound a bit now that Crave has launched French-language content, but it suggests that in terms of English Canada, Crave may have plateaued.

New resource posts on Where Can I Watch

That's it for this week – see you again (we expect) next Sunday!

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