Canadians will soon have even more options in streaming — but can they afford them all?

Jessica Gallos-Pronyk already has Netflix, but she wants to be among the first Canadians to sign up for Disney Plus, the new streaming service that will launch here mid-November.

“We’re a Disney family,” said the Winnipeg mother of four — two boys aged 11 and 10 and twin girls, aged 8. “We watch all the Star Wars movies, we watch Marvel movies. And they’ve pre-advertising some original content.”

The family watches shows on Netflix almost every day, and they pay for a cable package that includes Crave, HBO and various sports channels. Even so, Gallos-Pronyk isn’t concerned about paying an additional $89.99, the annual fee for Disney. She points out it costs almost that much to take the family to a movie at a local theatre.

“I mean heck, it’s Winnipeg,” says Gallos-Pronyk with a smile. “We have long, cold winters.”

Couch potatoes everywhere in Canada can rejoice: there will soon be more TV-viewing options than ever before. The list of new services entering the market just keeps growing:

  • Disney Plus will offer its service for $8.99 a month, or a year long subscription for $89.99.
  • Apple TV Plus will launch Nov. 1 for $5.99 a month — with a limited selection.
  • Roku — maker of a $49.99 set-top streaming device — will add 14 free channels in Canada by the end of September.

Some consumers intend to experiment with a combination of services.

“I may keep the cable and Netflix,” says Raymond Adams-Rajinderdeepkumar, of Scarborough, Ont. “I may just keep the Disney and Netflix. I may keep them all. I’ll see.”

Expensive business

The new selections may be a delight for customers, but they’re creating a brutal battle for the companies behind the services who have to scramble — and pay a fortune — to line up the type of content that will lure subscribers.

Netflix just reportedly paid more than $500 million US for the rights to stream Seinfeld reruns, while HBO Max paid a billion for the rights to The Big Bang Theory. And there are skirmishes over exclusivity: Warner pulled Friends from Netflix in the U.S. in order to stream it on its HBO Max service. Netflix also lost The Office to NBCUniversal’s new streaming service called Peacock.

All the services are pouring huge amounts of money into original programming as well. Apple TV Plus paid big bucks to Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon for its showcase drama, The Morning Show. Netflix is spending a reported $14 billion on its own programming this year.

“They’ve got to invest in content, because content is, in a sense, their best marketing tool,” says Ramona Pringle, who runs Ryerson University’s TransMedia Zone and writes a technology column for the CBC.  “If there’s nothing to watch, people aren’t going to stay.”

Pringle points out that “buzz” plays a big role in helping people discover new services and shows.

“We’ve all had that moment of ‘OK, well there’s nothing on Netflix,’ and the next question is ‘well, everyone’s talking about this other show. Should we test it out?’ And I think that’s going to be what opens the doors for these other services.”

Who loses?

Kaan Yigit runs Solutions Research Group, a consumer research firm in Toronto that conducts an annual survey of 1,000 Canadians about media and entertainment trends. When Yigit heard Disney Plus was coming to Canada, he added a question about participants’ willingness to pay for the service.

The results showed that 30 per cent of participants would sign up — a proportion that roughly corresponds with the number of households with children under the age of 18. Yigit also asked that group about their willingness to pay for additional services.

“You have 15 per cent who said they may drop their pay TV altogether, and 38 per cent said they may drop some channels.”

He notes that the cord-cutting trend — to unsubscribe entirely from cable providers such as Bell, Rogers, Shaw and Telus — has been growing in the marketplace for several years now, and will likely accelerate.

“A typical household if they have cable or satellite or an ITV subscription, they might be spending $70 to $90 a month on that,” he says. “So as new companies, new services come in, the consumer will have to look across the board at what they are spending, and make some tough decisions. I think this is a big concern to cable companies.”

More monthly bills

A poll sponsored by CBC News ahead of the upcoming federal election determined that Canadians’ biggest concern these days is the cost of living. It ranked as the top worry for every segment of Canadians polled, including indigenous Canadians, new Canadians, first-time voters and visible minorities.

But Jessica Gallos-Pronyk has no reservations about adding to her family’s monthly expenses. She’s already signed up for emails from Disney to get updates about the coming service.

She hopes all the new options may even give consumers leverage, in terms of negotiating better deals with cable providers.

“Perhaps coming down the road is an option to say to your cable provider, ‘We’re getting this, we’re getting that, what else can you do for us as far as pricing?'”

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