Posted April 12, 2021 • Last updated April 22, 2021

This Week in WCIW #17

Why that Netflix / Sony deal doesn't really affect Canada, plus news about Peacock's "Rutherford Falls".

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Welcome to the April 12, 2021 edition of This Week in WCIW, the weekly newsletter from Where Can I Watch – covering the latest news on where TV shows and movies will be available in Canada.

Streaming rights: Be Moved – or not

This past Thursday, Sony Pictures (owner of film labels like Columbia Pictures, TriStar, and Screen Gems) announced a new agreement with Netflix regarding streaming rights to Sony films.

There almost always ends up being a bit of broken telephone with these announcements, and if you came across this news through an American-focused tech site or at least one Canadian media outlet, you may have gotten the impression that this agreement includes Canada. In fact, as far as we can tell,  it does not, except for a side agreement that will give Netflix worldwide rights to some Sony direct-to-streaming movies.

Here are the pertinent passages, quoted directly from the press release (emphasis added):

Netflix and Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) have today announced a multiyear, exclusive first pay window licensing deal in the U.S. for theatrically released SPE feature films, beginning with their 2022 film slate. This new agreement builds upon Netflix’s pre-existing output deal with Sony Pictures Animation films to now include all SPE film labels and genres. [...] Netflix will also license rights to select titles from SPE’s vast movie library.

As part of the partnership, Sony Pictures’ Motion Picture Group will offer Netflix a first look at any films it intends to make directly for streaming or decides later to license for streaming, and Netflix has committed to make a number of those films over the course of the deal.

This is absolutely a big deal for both Sony Pictures and Netflix (and it's not great news for Lionsgate, for reasons we'll get into shortly). And that second paragraph means that Sony will be looking at producing some direct-to-streaming films that – as a quote from a Netflix executive in the full press release makes clear – Netflix would have first dibs on streaming worldwide, including in Canada.

But – drawing your attention again to that "in the U.S." caveat – it seems clear that this deal does not affect streaming rights in Canada for Columbia or TriStar films that debut in theatres.

This deal is mainly replacing a similar U.S. contract that had been held since 2006 by Starz, and was most recently extended in 2013 to run through the end of this year. Starz is now owned by rival studio Lionsgate, and as a result of this loss, it will be much more dependent on Lionsgate's own films going forward. It also means that future Sony films will be available much more widely to American streaming customers, many more of whom subscribe to Netflix than Starz.

However, from everything we can tell, the Canadian contracts for Sony film rights are negotiated separately – and thus wouldn't be affected by this deal. Sony Pictures has not generally bothered to issue any similar announcements about Canadian pay TV contracts as it has done the U.S., and as of Sunday they had not responded to a request for clarification we sent them on Friday morning. But that having been said, based on where recent Sony films are available in Canada right now, this seems to be how these rights have sorted out:

  • Amazon Prime Video has the Canadian pay-1 rights to Sony Pictures films released in theatres since late 2019, beginning with Zombieland: Double Tap (which was released in theatres on October 18 of that year, and became available on Prime Video about six months later, on April 16, 2020). Among the other Sony releases that are "included with Prime" as of April 2021 are Greta Gerwig's Little Women (theatrical release: December 2019), Bad Boys for Life (January 2020), and The Craft: Legacy (October 2020).
     
  • Sony films released prior to late 2019 generally premiered in Canada on Bell Media's Crave (with Movies + HBO) and Super Écran services. Films still available on Crave under that deal include Brightburn (theatrical release: May 2019), Men In Black: International (June 2019), Spider-Man: Far From Home (July 2019), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (July 2019), and The Angry Birds Movie 2 (August 2019).
     
    Crave also, separately, has Canadian pay-1 rights to most films from Sony's arthouse label Sony Pictures Classics, since those are usually distributed here not by Sony but by Mongrel Media. Films currently available from that lineup include Greed (February 2020) and Pain and Glory (October 2019).
     
    The Canadian version of Starz (also managed by Bell Media) is among the services that holds rights to some older Sony films on a rotating basis (currently including, among others, 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2), but it has never carried first-run Sony films as has been the case with its U.S. counterpart. (Edit [April 22]: The same goes for Bell's CTV Movies ad-supported VOD hub.)
     
  • Netflix Canada does already have a deal with Sony as well, just not for the first pay window. As with several other distributors like Warner Bros. and Universal, Sony films that had been previously available in the pay-1 window on Crave have generally moved to Netflix Canada after about 16 months. Current titles available in Canada on Netflix along these lines include Spider-Man: Homecoming (released theatrically in July 2017), Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (December 2017), Venom (October 2018), and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (December 2018).
     
    Again, all of these movies were previously available on Crave, but later moved to Netflix. For example, Into the Spider-Verse arrived on Crave in June 2019, then departed in November 2020, immediately moving to Netflix Canada.
     
    Because not all of the films from Crave's contract have rolled onto Netflix yet, it's not yet clear whether this second window on Netflix Canada will continue for later Sony films that are currently in the pay-1 window on Prime Video.

Now, while this agreement doesn't affect Canada, it remains possible that there may be a similar change here at some point. There might be other discussions underway between Sony and Netflix – or others – for future rights to theatrical releases in international markets.

But nothing like that is apparent in this announcement. And Sony's transition to Prime Video Canada is recent enough that it seems very unlikely there'll be a similar simultaneous move here.

Here's why: As noted above, Sony has not announced any details on the arrangements it has with Amazon in Canada, such as how long it may last. However, three years (which, given the apparent fall 2019 start, would cover releases through summer 2022) seems to be the minimum length for a pay-1 output deal of this nature. Even that would be considered "unusually short", with most agreements being for the 5-10 year timeframe.

In other words, the Canadian rights to Sony films may change again at some point – but it's very unlikely it'll be changing at or around the same time as this new Netflix deal comes into effect in the U.S.

For now, the best we can do here is point out one of our rules of thumb: If an announcement – i.e., the actual press release – about programming rights does not explicitly say either "Canada", "North America", or "worldwide" (or otherwise refer to a Canada-specific service), there's a high probability that it does not actually include Canada – so don't get your hopes up.


Programming news

  • Corus has confirmed that Peacock sitcom Rutherford Falls, starring Ed Helms and co-created by Helms, Sierra Teller Orenelas, and Michael Schur, will debut in Canada on Showcase on Thursday, April 29, one week after its U.S. release. The series will debut with back-to-back episodes starting at 8:00 p.m. ET, with the first episode simulcast on Global at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT. As with other Peacock series, the series will roll out weekly in Canada; it's not yet clear if Peacock itself will be releasing Rutherford Falls weekly or all at once.
     
  • Crave has announced that it has made the remastered HD version of Sex and the City available for streaming; the new version was first released on HBO Max in the U.S. in February. As well, in time for the 10th anniversary of the premiere of the Game of Thrones TV series, Crave has joined HBO Max in releasing a two-part GOT reunion special, filmed during the production of season 8 and hosted by Conan O'Brien, which is available under "Trailer & Extras" on its show page on Crave (direct links: Part 1, Part 2).

Other notes

  • An eagle-eyed poster on the DigitalHome.ca discussion forum has noticed that Bell Media seems to be in the process of adding its Discovery-branded networks to the CTV website and apps. As has been the case in recent months with Much.com, MTV.ca, and SnackableTV.com (remember that?), it seems likely that Discovery.ca and related apps – which no longer have any meaningful content beyond the Discovery networks' programming itself – will be decommissioned shortly after the new pages are officially launched.

    Does this mean anything for a potential launch of the Discovery+ streaming service in Canada? Probably not directly or imminently, but a change like this – placing Discovery, Animal Planet, and related networks under the CTV brand and apps for the first time, as opposed to being handled through a distinct Discovery app – is significant, and might have required some sort of sign-off from the brands' parent company, Discovery Inc. If that is indeed the case here, that might indicate the lines of communication could be open for other changes in the near future.
     
  • A few weeks ago, we noted the upcoming launch of the interconnected sitcoms The Parker Andersons and Amelia Parker on Super Channel in Canada. This past week, Radheyan Simonpillai of Now Magazine in Toronto posted a lengthy piece about how the shows were overhauled during production, once it became clear the original creative team was not positioned to tell true-to-life stories about an interracial family. It's well worth a read, as is this follow-up story about the inclusion of LGBTQ characters in future seasons.

Recent updates on WCIW

  • The only significant update to the site this week was to our Peacock post to note the upcoming Rutherford Falls (as discussed above). We've updated a couple of other pages like those about Nomadland to reflect availability updates, but nothing that wasn't previously expected.

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