A Canada without YouTube? It could happen.

If the CRTC decides CanCon rules apply online, web companies could be tempted to cut off Canada


Photo by jonsson/Flickr

Here’s an interesting if somewhat disturbing thought: can you picture a world without YouTube? Or more specifically, a country without YouTube?

It seems improbable, almost impossible, but it’s entirely conceivable if the CRTC loses its collective mind and decides to regulate such “over-the-top” Internet services in Canada.

The regulator, answering to cajoling from traditional broadcasters, has now concluded its “fact-finding mission” on whether YouTube, Netflix and other OTT services should have Canadian content rules foisted on to them. At some point, it will decide on whether to proceed with a new, full hearing, or whether it will just drop the issue, at least for now.

The CanCon rules applied to traditional media generally require broadcasters to air a certain percentage of Canadian programming per day, plus pay a percentage of their revenues into funds that help create said programs.

Now imagine if those same rules were applied to the likes of Netflix and YouTube. They’d be easier for Netflix to adopt. It would probably be simple and cheap for the streaming video provider to stock up on old episodes of Beachcombers and The Friendly Giant, thereby meeting the percentage requirements. Paying into development funds would also drive up Netflix’s cost of doing business, which would mean the company would either have less money to spend on new content or it would have to raise prices, but it would be doable.

For YouTube, however, it’s a different story. Measuring and controlling the service for Canadian content would probably be next to impossible, but it’s actually the money issue that’s the bigger problem for YouTube’s owner, Google. The company has been promising for years that the video service is nearing profitability, but barring any official announcement, it hasn’t happened yet. That’s because it’s not an easy business to monetize. The tremendous popularity of the free service means rather big infrastructure costs, which advertisements haven’t seemed to counter just yet.

So what are a few extra million dollars in regulatory costs to a company the size of Google? Not much, but Canada would likely be just the first of many countries to dip their hands into Google’s pockets. Any other country that failed to enact similar regulatory requirements and costs—in the name of national cultural development, of course—would be missing out on an easy pay day. When that inevitable global bonanza gets added up, YouTube’s already questionable climb to profitability would slow down considerably.

Google is not likely to ever come out and say it would block Canadians’ access to YouTube in the event of regulation (I asked and they didn’t comment), but it would make sense if it happened and no could really blame the company. After all, sometimes it’s best to cut off a limb to spare the rest of the body from a hostile infection.

But boy would it be fun if the unlikely did happen. For one thing, given that Canadians are among the world’s biggest users of YouTube, we might not have to worry about usage-based billing anymore since our internet traffic would plunge off a cliff. The country would go back to the good old days that big Internet providers seem to love so much, where all people did on the internet was send email.

More realistically, though, usage of BitTorrent file-sharing and virtual private networks would skyrocket, making Canada a veritable piracy wonderland. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!


A Canada without YouTube? It could happen.

  1. 1. Proxy servers are wonderful things, and 
    2. The CRTC is too stuck in the radio age to ever understand their basic irrelevance as a cultural regulator.

    • Proxy servers are wonderful things …..

      Abigail Cutler – Penetrating the Great Firewall:

      Good thing, too, because so many of China’s banks, foreign businesses and manufacturing companies, retailers, and software vendors rely on virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers—the two dependable alternatives to operating within the Firewall—to survive.

      “To keep China in business,” Fallows writes, “the government has to allow some exceptions to its control efforts—even knowing that many Chinese citizens will exploit the resulting loopholes.”

      These loopholes prompt an obvious question: What’s the point of maintaining a firewall that’s so easy to thwart? The aim, Fallows notes, is to make it as inconvenient as possible to access information that could undermine the government. 

      This includes, of course, details from China’s less-than-pristine past—the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, for example, and the Cultural Revolution—as well as current controversies, like the Three Gorges Dam project and the country’s food-safety issues. (During politically sensitive times, the government makes accessing foreign-press Web sites especially difficult.) 

      The result is a user population conditioned to self-censorship and largely ignorant of “internationally noticed” issues. One cannot help wondering how much longer this can this go on.


  2. BitTorrent? What’s that? Never heard of it.

    • BitTorrent is one of those what they call urban legends. You can tell a not-cool person by they’re saying BitTorrent. 

      You ever hear anybody talking about BitTorrent, you tell them “Hey Bro, you really believe in that?”

  3. One of the tactics we can expect from this government is the excitement of public animosity to government regulations. By taking extreme restrictive positions against products and services it knows to be popular, this government will increase public animosity to government regulation in general. 

  4. The underlying logic of CanCon % rules is that there is a scarcity of broadcast time.  The internet has no such scarcity.  If CanCon is not getting viewers, it’s because it is not appealing to Canadians.

    • Bingo. Excellent insight. Cheers.

  5. Every time I come across content on the internet that I am not allowed to watch because it directs me to a Canadian site, I say [cluck] it and I move on. E.g. Comedy Central. I do this on principle. 

    • I wouldn’t mind if they actually provided a link.  But the link always goes to the front page of whatever site theoretically provides the clip in Canada, with me having to spend like five minutes to find it.  So not cool.

      • This still works:  http://www.reddit.com/r/canada/comments/8zjv7/instructions_on_how_to_watch_thedailyshowcom/

  6. Survival of the fittest, only the agile will survive. CRTC are living in the past blatantly supporting legacy telco’s, stopping innovation and disrupting evolution of new services. Get you act together, evolve of die and realize that the rubbish produced by TV providers in Canada nobody wants to watch. Telco’s are really nothing more than plumbers providing connectivity.

  7. It’s one thing to have content laws when there’s only so much air space to go around, but as Fraser Harris mentions above, there’s no such limits in cyberspace, and thus no justification for limiting content.

    If the Canadian stuff is good it’ll attract viewers the world over. So you either trust in our abilities as people to generate said content or you don’t.

    Besides, the internet is about the development of GLOBAL culture, ie the sharing of knowledge, insight, perspectives etc of people the world over. The pretense of controlling that and insisting that Canadians discuss, view or listen ONLY to “Canadian” content would be a farce of the largest proportions.

    This shouldn’t even be a point of discussion. The CRTC is losing their grip on reality if they try to move in on the internet in this fashion.

  8. The problem with the CRTC is that it is dealing with the symptom of the problem (Canadians don’t watch Canadian content), not the cause (Canadian content is bad). Extending that to the Internet will only exacerbate the problem.

    What we need to do is make good Canadian content. Don’t believe its possible? Britain is a bit larger than us, but also more culturally distant from the US, with funny accents to boot. While Americans are familiar with, at most, three Canadian shows (Degrassi*, Corner Gas – which airs down here, and Trailer Park Boys), Britain enjoys enormous influence: 

    Most obviously, you have British comedies enjoyed by a certain anglophile strata in America. However the real impact is indirect. Many successful British series were adapted for the US. Long before the Office (which itself is only an extension of the awkward silence comedy of I’m Alan Partridge), Till Death do us Part was adapted into All in the Family. Hate reality TV and “So You Think You Can Idol” shows? Better burn a union jack, because the British invented it.

    The problem with Canadian content is that it is usually Canadian first, and entertaining second. If you want a million dollars to make a show, just make sure it is depressing, set in the Maritimes in the 1930s, makes a statement about mistreatment of natives and has at least one character in an iron lung. Oh and the main character should look like Anne of Green Gables. 

    What we need to do is play to the strengths and weaknesses of being a small country. We are a small enough market that putting on a show isn’t going to require a lot of money – and a lot of studio execs shooting down creative ideas. Like the Brits, we should do short seasons, and run shows that are more conceptual. If we can show that a concept works in Canada, it may also fly elsewhere – but what is important is that we will have contributed something new and enduring to the global cultural landscape. 

    We can do better than “The Trouble with Tracy”, Canada. 

    *Okay, technically there are 3 Degrassi variants: Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High and Degrassi: the New Generation

    • While this is largely right, I’d add that there’s a stigma associated with Canadian content that if it can’t sell in the US, it’s not good.  The thing is, the US market is really, really hard to break into with international material.  The big networks *never* show foreign-produced shows.  Sure, they’ll maybe do a remake (a la The Office), but they’ll never show the original.  So the best hope is that the show will be picked up by PBS (which tars it as “arty”) or somewhere on cable (which is for the most part less prestigious than the networks).

      That said, there are some quality Canadian shows that have done decently well in the US market, not even counting those you’ve mentioned, most recently Being Erica (which, in typical US fashion, is now being remade by ABC).  18 to Life also got briefly picked up by the CW (the lowest rated of the networks), but it benefited from being completely unidentifiable as Canadian (unless you could identify Montreal in the background).  (Come to think of it, there are also a *lot* of documentaries and reality-type shows that air on US cable networks, but they are not usually identifiable as Canadian until the provincial logo pops up at the end).

      All of which is to say, if you want a Canadian show to do well in the US, it can’t have any Canadian content in it at all (even if it qualifies as “CanCon”); by contrast, good “Canadian” shows will not be given a chance to do well in the US.

  9. One thing I -don’t- do after being blocked because I’m from a canadian IP, is turn on the TV to watch some good ol’ canadian content.

  10. But reducing access to YouTube might have the important side effect of partially rectifying that productivity gap I often read about…

  11. This is a BS story as far as YouTube is concerned, YouTube recieves content from anywhere, it has just as much Canadian content as other content. Considering YouTube cannot promote other countries content over Canadian content there is no issue. If the CRTC tried to force some rule upon them they could try to take the site down in Canada, Google will win against the CRTC any day. I say try it, take YouTube down in Canada and see if the CRTC lasts another year.

  12. Can we finally get rid of the Canadian Content rules? If it is good, we will watch it, if it isn’t, we won’t.

  13. Even if YouTube is forbidden in Canada, many canadians would try some other ways to get access to it. Just like the things exist in many other no-YouTube countries. It is not some big deal!
    Anyway, I want to suggest that the countries without Youtube can still have a good daily time.

  14.  I think it may be possible, YouTube I think can not be so important so far, People obviously can live without it…

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