National Film Board of Canada intends to launch doc-based streaming service
By Angela Espinoza, Arts Editor
Earlier this month, it was announced during Toronto’s Hot Docs documentary festival, now in its 20th year, that the National Film Board of Canada has an ambitious project in mind. This particular project is being described by The Globe and Mail as potentially being, “the Netflix of the documentary world.”
To elaborate, this new project by the NFB is to create a global-streaming service for documentaries, from original NFB productions to international works. A number of documentaries (along with other pieces of Canadiana) can be viewed for free already on the NFB website—a fantastic service if you’re looking for some brain food and have time to kill. However, where a potential fee comes in is, again, the goal of sharing international and popular documentaries, both of which will have mandatory licensing.
As a Netflix subscriber, I spend a lot of time using the service specifically for documentary viewing. Almost yearly, a number of documentaries screened at Canadian film festivals find their way onto Canada’s Netflix service, which is something I consider a highlight. As nice and necessary as having docs on the service is though, I do love the idea of having a documentary-specific service. Where a possible issue arises though is whether or not this original Canadian service will actually be able to get our money’s worth in documentaries.
Not to be cynical, but as a Netflix subscriber, I occasionally question why we still have the service. Many people complain that Netflix does not have all the movies (and shows) that the American version does. Like it or not, part of that is due to the fact that without more subscribers, services like Netflix can’t afford licensing on certain products—at best, everything already on Canada’s Netflix is temporary. That is a point that needs to be mentioned because for Canada to launch such an ambitious product like a documentary-based streaming service, it requires people to actually pay for the service in order to literally get their money’s worth; the less subscribers, the less product available, and the more real the notion of not having any streaming service—including Netflix—becomes likely.
But what really makes this documentary service so important is that Canada was a forerunner in the development of documentaries as they are seen today. From classic Canadian works such as the Paul Anka documentary Lonely Boy (1962), and further back to 1941’s Churchill’s Island (the first film to win the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject), Canada is largely responsible for how documentaries have been developed over time. If Canada is anything, it’s ambitious, and if Canada is anything else, it’s oftentimes unsuccessful in its ambitiousness.
I don’t want to see this potential service fail. Canadian film is struggling enough already that any failed project is no longer just a setback; it’s a devastating blow. With that said, I look forward to this upcoming NFB service, which is set to launch in North America and Europe online and across digital platforms as a downloadable app (much like Netflix) as early as next year.