Premiering tomorrow on Amazon.com is the new series, Transparent. Jill Soloway’s latest work of complex, progressive dark comedy, about a transgender woman in the process of transitioning, has been getting stellar reviews ever since the pilot was put online as part of Amazon Studios’ uniquely “transparent” pilot season process. Emily Nussbaum, writing for The New Yorker, called the series “a daring, difficult project, a chewy story,” describing the “indie-inflected” pacing and wit of the show, and marking it as a smart work of television worth everyone’s time. Transparent sounds great, and I’d love to watch it. It’s too bad I can’t. Amazon won’t let me.
I’m from Canada, a fantastical kingdom located in a far off magical kingdom unseen and untouched by most humans. Or rather, that’s how it feels sometimes when having to deal with streaming video online. We’ve got Netflix, though with a lesser catalogue of films and TV series. We’ve got a sort of crappier equivalent of HBO GO, called TMN GO. But we don’t have Hulu. We don’t have Warner Archive Instant. And we don’t have access to Amazon Prime Instant streaming. Attempt to access any of these sites from just north of the border and you’re met with a message like this:
The reason these sites aren’t available in Canada, and everywhere not the United States, is said to be a matter of distribution rights. There’s a degree of truth to that, of course, and the varying Netflix catalogues around the world are indicative of that. But at least Netflix is trying. That geolocation message pictured above, from Hulu, has been there ever the streaming service was created back in 2007. It almost mockingly tells global audiences that the company is working hard on getting going in other territories, a blatantly false statement given the seven years they’ve had to expand.
The problem becomes even more indefensible when it comes to the recent trend of original programing on streaming networks. Netflix, for example, has led the way on original scripted series going direct to streaming. They produce several hit shows themselves and make the shows available in any market where their service is available. Hulu has co-produced several series, yet they have made no effort to offer their service in Canada, where those shows are unavailable. You literally cannot even pay them to get their service unless you have an American credit card and an American address. In their case, though, I can see a stumbling block of being unwilling to invest in opening shop in Canada for smaller potential returns. Also, their shows, generally being co-productions, may have more complicated rights situations than the ones Netflix makes.
Amazon has no such excuse. They are a worldwide operation, with localized sites and services in thirteen countries and counting. Their TV series are produced in-house, and they maintain the distribution rights for streaming. The shows are only available to subscribers of Amazon Prime, and Canada has Prime. And yet we get no instant streaming. The only advantage of Prime? Free 2-day shipping. Amazon does offer streaming video in the UK, but only because they bought another streaming service there called LoveFilm, folded it in and renamed it.
There’s no good reason a series like Transparent shouldn’t be made available in Canada for Prime subscribers, and yet Amazon so far shows no interest. The only option they leave for the foreseeable future is to either move to the US or UK, or pirate the show. Back when distribution of TV and movies required huge physical infrastructure, this sort of thing made sense, but it’s 2014 and this is all getting a little ridiculous. Even in the new age of media, antiquated ways of doing business are still alive and well.
Corey Atad is a staff writer for Pajiba. He lives in Toronto.