The U.S.-based video streaming service is rapidly growing, with an estimated four million Canadian subscribers, but operates unregulated in Canada, with no staff in the country or taxes owed on its revenue.
That has made it a frequent target for Canadian broadcasters and industry groups that appeared at Let’s Talk TV, a landmark hearing into the future of television that wraps up today at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Over two weeks of in-person testimony, TV executives have repeatedly called Netflix a threat to their business model and urged the regulator to level the playing field.
The thrust of Netflix’s argument is that forcing a global, online video service to pay into the Canadian broadcasting system or abide by its regulations would only limit the company’s ability to respond to viewers’ changing habits and demands, and reinforce the dominance of existing TV powerhouses.
Yet Friday’s question-and-answer session with Netflix was derailed by a standoff over Netflix’s hesitation to provide the Commission data about its revenues, subscriber numbers, Canadian viewership and expenditures on productions in the country. When Netflix’s global public policy director, Corie Wright (pictured below), expressed concern that such sensitive information might not be kept confidential, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais took offence.
After a series of exchanges on confidentiality, an angry Mr. Blais abruptly announced, “we’re going to take a break,” and walked out of the room. When he returned, appearing only slightly less agitated, he warned Netflix that it operates in Canada under a special exemption that requires it to disclose information, and that he was ordering Netflix to hand over data that would stay confidential.
“You are not entitled to special treatment,” Mr. Blais said.
After Ms. Wright offered a particularly vague promise to try to provide information in a timely way on viewership of Canadian shows, CRTC vice-chairman Tom Pentefountas also remarked, “That’s a heck of an answer for someone who takes, perhaps, hundreds of millions of dollars out of the Canadian economy.”
READ MORE HERE AT THE GLOBE & MAIL WEBSITE