Why Can't I Watch It?

If you are someone who gets excited to travel to distant locations not just for the life experiences, but also because a different country means a different Netflix selection, you are not alone.  It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is on Netflix US, but not Netflix Canada, and my all-time favourite show, RuPaul's Drag Race is available on Netflix in Mexico, but not Canada or the USA. As they say on Drag Race, what's the T?

As many people have noticed, the Netflix library is pretty different from one country to the next. Netflix has been available in Canada since 2010, and although its library is growing steadily, it's still only about one-third the size of the library available in the USA.  People often ask me why their favourite shows aren't available in Canada, and the answer is simple in theory, but complex in practice.  

Stated simply, television programs that are not "Netflix Originals" (which are generally shows commissioned and owned solely by or exclusively licensed by Netflix), are created by different production companies in different regions for different purposes at different times.  Many of them were never intended to be Netflix shows. In fact, most of them, especially the older titles, were intended for traditional broadcast on cable or premium cable television.

As streaming content grows in popularity, and companies like Netflix acquire content, and this is especially true with older titles, they are acquiring rights that have most likely been previously granted to someone else and have lapsed.

Each television series and movie is exploited by its owner throughout the different regions in the world in different ways, and within each individual country or territory of exploitation, rights can often be separated. Take, for example, a movie you see in the theatre, which later becomes available on pay-per-view television, and then gets broadcast on basic cable and is also available for purchase on iTunes.  Each one of the licenses for each method of exploitation would have different terms, including the length of the rights granted to the television network or video-on-demand provider and the territory.

This ability to cleave a production into different exploitation components is generally great for the producer, as it gives the producer multiple ways to sell their product, but it's tricky for the end user, because it means that, like many things in life, you can't always get what you want when you want it.