Posted March 18, 2020 • Last updated May 8, 2020

This Week in WCIW #4: The Current Situation

How the media industry is responding to the pandemic, including early digital movie rentals, and free previews. Also, Quibi.

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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is certainly an unprecedented event, which will have an effect on all aspects of life in Canada.

Certainly, the shift to social distancing will mean significant, if temporary, changes in the types of entertainment we consume, and the ways we consume it. Virtually all sports activities will likely be on hold until May, if not cancelled outright. All major cinema circuits will be closed for the forseeable future.

It will be a while until the full extent is understood. In the meantime, some interesting moves are being made.

Before we go any further, we want to be abundantly clear that we are sticking to our strengths here – Canadian media rights – and the fact that we are doing so in no way minimizes the other very important public health considerations of this situation. If you aren't doing so already, we encourage you to consult the Government of Canada's website and those of other government and local public health authorities, and follow their guidance.

Home movies

This past weekend, Disney announced it would add Frozen Ⅱ to Disney+ more than three months ahead of schedule, making it available in the U.S. this past Sunday, and in its other territories including Canada today.

Meanwhile, Universal Pictures will be releasing digitally several very-recent and upcoming theatrical releases including The Hunt, The Invisible Man, Emma, and the forthcoming Trolls World Tour for 48-hour rentals at a suggested price of USD $19.99 (and comparable prices in other countries including Canada). That is, of course, well above the typical digital rental price – but still below two typical tickets at a first-run cinema. And it appears other studios may not be far behind, at least for lower-budget or poorer-performing movies.

Free preview season

As the public health situation became more urgent at the end of this past week, both CBC and CTV announced they would offer their news channels for free through at least mid-April – both through traditional TV providers, and through their streaming sites/apps. (While commonly included in traditional basic cable packages, they are not – in most cases – required parts of those packages, and are frequently excluded from "skinny" basic packages. And as a reminder, CBC News Network is not ordinarily free as it's a commercially-licensed channel and is not funded by your taxes.)

Meanwhile, specialty channel operators including Corus Entertainment, Hollywood Suite, Blue Ant and WildBrain are offering much of their specialty channel lineup on free preview – at least through certain providers like Rogers and SaskTel – until April 30, with providers positioning it as a way to help keep families entertained. (Many of these same channels are also available over-the-top via Prime Video, but it doesn't currently look like this preview extends there - just the usual "subscribe and get a 30 day trial".)

Finally, AMC Networks is using the opportunity to offer extended trials (30 days instead of the usual 7 days) to new users of its Acorn TV and Sundance Now streaming services. The extended trial requires promo code "FREE30" for Acorn, and "SUNDANCENOW30" for Sundance Now. (We haven't seen anything similar for AMC's other streaming service Shudder yet, but we wouldn't be surprised if there's something floating around.)

Quibi is coming... maybe?

Quibi, the long-gestating but well-backed mobile video subscription service scheduled to launch on April 6, has a Canadian partner in BCE, which will be providing both marketing muscle in the form of a marketing partnership with Bell, and Canadian content via daily programs from CTV News and TSN.

As it stands, it looks like Canadians will get exactly the same Quibi service and programming as the U.S. will - no difference in programming or technology (and yes, that seems to mean that Americans will be able to watch those same CTV and TSN updates). The only difference will be pricing - (CAD) $6.99 per month for service with ads and $9.99 without ads (vs. USD 4.99 and 7.99 respectively).

Of course, Quibi's business case is based in large part on getting people to watch programming in ten-minute chunks during downtime like commutes. So we wouldn't be entirely shocked if the launch date ends up getting pushed back a bit.

Programming note

The proprietor's day job continues remotely for now, so we won't necessarily have significantly more time than usual for updates. We do have a rough plan for some future new posts, but all of this is secondary to the situation as it evolves.

You've likely seen this in many other messages this past week, but it bears repeating: Stay safe, and take care of each other.

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