Giving Netflix the nix?

Critipeg reviews the Canadian streaming video landscape

Streaming video is the future of home entertainment, but it’s also not always easy to be a streaming customer in Canada. The announcement that Canadian streaming service Shomi would be going dark at the end of November has left devotees of the Rogers-owned service devastated. Combine that with the fact that many of the leading streaming services (including Amazon Video and Hulu) aren’t available in Canada, it’s easy for locals to think Netflix is their only option.

But the avenues for affordable movies and TV online aren’t as dire as they may seem for the Great White North.

Netflix

Subscription cost:
$7.99 to $11.99 per month (plans vary)

You don’t need this article to explain what Netflix is. It’s basically the McDonald’s of streaming services, encompassing all the good and bad qualities that description suggests. It’s affordable, and their selection is huge. But what are the pros and cons of the service?

Pros:
-Selection: Netflix has thousands of movies and TV shows at your fingertips. The exact number isn’t exactly clear – Netflix is notoriously secretive about their data – but no viewer will want for something to watch.
-Original content: Without Hulu or Amazon Video, Netflix is one of the only streaming providers in Canada producing original content, and they’re producing a lot of it. In 2016, Netflix is expected to release more original content than any other network, cable channel or streaming service. With great shows like Stranger Things and Making a Murderer, it’s hard to complain.
-Accessibility: One of the biggest upsides to Netflix is that it’s supported by virtually every imaginable device, whether you use your computer, tablet, phone, gaming console, Smart TV or any other technology under the sun.

Cons:
-Interface: Netflix’s user interface is fairly simple, but you have to be willing to put in a bit of work to get your money’s worth. There’s no easy way to simply browse the entire catalogue and the suggested categories that pop up when the app is launched only scratch the surface of what’s available to stream. To get a better sense of what’s available, you need to go to the “Categories” section and comb through each individual category. Even those browsable categories aren’t organized in any discernable way. It’s sort of like sorting through a massive, shuffled deck of cards.
-The algorithm: Netflix’s recommendation algorithm doesn’t make it easy to discover new content outside of your comfort zone. All shows and movies suggested are based on similar things to what you’ve already watched. This extends to their content creation, where Netflix analyzes their users’ data to determine what types of original shows and films will be popular.

So, if you decide to expand your streaming horizons, what are some other options?

MUBI

Subscription cost:
$7.99 per month

MUBI is a streaming service aimed at film lovers. Their selection is curated to bring its subscribers stuff they won’t see on any other streaming service. It’s geared towards art films, cult films and foreign cinema.

Pros:
-Curation: Most people have heard a friend with Netflix complain they spend all their time looking for something to watch and never end up watching anything. MUBI’s catalogue always contains only 30 movies. A new movie is added every day, remains online for 30 days, then disappears. It makes deciding what to watch easy and, with their eclectic selection, every new watch is a discovery.
-Diversity: MUBI’s catalog, while small, is diverse. At the time of this writing, the 30 available films came from 12 countries spanning five continents, in eight different languages. They ranged in release date from 1956 to 2015. Well above industry averages, 16 per cent of the films were directed by women and 20 per cent by people of colour.
-Accessibility: Like Netflix, MUBI is available on many devices. Unlike Netflix, you can use one subscription on an infinite number of devices.

Cons:
-Selection: Sure, all 30 films are incredible discoveries, and it’s a diverse selection, but, at the end of the day, it’s still only 30 films.

Shudder

Subscription cost:
$4.99 per month or $49.99 for a full year

Shudder is an all-horror streaming service. It’s coming to Canada this autumn. Since it’s nearly winter, we’re assuming that means very soon.

Pros:
-Shudder.tv: Like MUBI, Shudder has a solution to the searching-not-watching problem. In addition to browsing the catalogue, you can tune into preprogrammed themed stations with scheduled programming.

Cons:
-Diversity: It’s all horror. Not exactly a lot of variety.

National Film Board of Canada (NFB)

Subscription cost:
(Mostly) free

The NFB has made most of its films available to stream online for free. Some movies still need to be bought or rented on DVD.

Pros:
-Free: It’s free! And why not? Your tax dollars paid for the movies!
-Selection: Nearly a century’s worth of films, with the earliest dating to 1917.
-Interface: A great search function lets you search and browse by every imaginable variable.

Cons:
-Recommendations: No suggestion options makes it difficult to know where to start.

Archive.org

Subscription cost:
Free

Archive.org is the go-to place for public domain content online. If the idea of public domain movies has you cringing, just give it a chance.

Pros:
-Free: It’s free and legal!
-Variety: The selection is quirky but phenomenal. It’s chock full of Golden-Age Hollywood films, silent classics, kitschy cult trash and newer films like Sita Sings the Blues.

Cons:
-Public domain: You won’t find the latest blockbuster releases here.

Vimeo

Subscription cost:
Free (some content must be bought)

Contrary to what your friends may have told you, Vimeo isn’t just a YouTube clone. It’s one of the best places to stream original short films from up-and-coming filmmakers.

Pros:
-Discovery: You’re guaranteed to discover films and filmmakers you’ve never seen. The site houses more than 41,000 free short films and their excellent Short of the Week feature makes it easy to find a starting point.

Cons:
-Accessibility: Vimeo’s mobile apps are pretty crappy, so you’re basically restricted to watching in your web browser.

Crackle

Subscription cost:
Free (ad-supported)

Crackle is basically the DVD bargain bin of streaming services. There’s good stuff in there, but you need to be willing to dig through the garbage to find it.

Pros:
-Cost: It’s free!
-Original content: Like Netflix, Crackle produces original content. While some of it is great (Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee), some is really bad (Joe Dirt 2).

Cons:
-Ad-supported: You need to suffer through a commercial break every 30 minutes or so.
-Selection: There are a handful of forgotten classics on Crackle, but to find them you need to wade through lots of crappy movies and TV shows.

Published in Volume 71, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 12, 2016)

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