Streaming wars: How disruptors are shaking up the TV business



David Cormican, centre left, an executive vice-president at Don Carmody Television, chats with staff involved in the upcoming TV series Between. ( MATTHEW SHERWOOD FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)


By James Bradshaw

Published Friday, Apr. 17 2015


The new six-part television drama Between chronicles a town besieged by a disease that spares only the young, leaving teenagers in charge. But watch closely when it premieres next month and you might catch a glimpse of a TV world in similar turmoil.

In Canada, where it was conceived, the show will make its debut May 21 on the City network, then later on the streaming service Shomi. But American viewers can watch it the same day on Netflix, thanks to an unusual production deal.

Between straddles two worlds: The traditional TV business and the new frontier of online, on-demand video. Much of the money that made the show possible flowed through TV’s Canadian content system. But data and funding from Netflix Inc. helped shape it with tweaks to content and casting. Actor Jennette McCurdy has a huge following from the Nickelodeon shows iCarly and Sam & Cat, and Netflix helped nudge her into Between’s starring role.

“They just sort of knew there’s this following that’s craving new content of her,” said David Cormican, executive vice-president of business development and production at Don Carmody Television.

That hunger for content is accelerating a shift in the way TV is made and broadcast, with new streaming services springing up around the world. Some are digital disruptors challenging the television establishment, such as Netflix or’s Prime Instant Video. Others are owned by the broadcasters that have dominated the dial, such as CraveTV, Shomi or Hulu.

But this disruption may be happening faster than the industry can pivot, trapping the TV business in a dangerous cycle and threatening to sap profits. Current trends raise doubts about how the existing volume and quality of TV shows – dubbed a “Golden Age” of television by some – can be sustained by a stable of low-cost digital alternatives.

While the viewer is seizing control, dictating how and when they will watch TV, the programming they want is getting carved up between an ever-increasing number of distributors and platforms. That will make discovering and accessing new shows more complicated, and test viewers’ willingness to pay for multiple services. Meanwhile, the creators of content must hustle to find audiences and finance their projects. And as more TV subscribers shave down their services, cable and satellite revenues have flattened, with higher broadband use offsetting broadcaster losses for now.

Streaming services are investing more in original content, but they still stock their libraries with programs that were made for – and financed by – traditional TV. By conditioning viewers to demand control, choice and lower prices, they are fuelling the decline of a decades-old business model while feeding on its massive output.

“The traditional media have been, in my opinion, slow to react,” said Ira Levy, executive producer and partner at Breakthrough Entertainment, an independent Canadian producer and distributor. “But they’re trying to catch up real quick.”


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