TORONTO - Netflix is promising that 2012 will be a big year for the company in Canada, with plans to double its acquisition spending for movies and TV shows and give Canadians access to more quality content — although it still won't match the selection available in the U.S.
In a letter to shareholders in late October, Netflix said next year's spending boost would give the the Canadian service "comparable content quality" to the U.S. site.
In a recent interview, vice president of content Jason Ropell said the statement implies that Canadians will get access to the same calibre of top-tier films and TV shows available in the U.S., although he conceded the quantity of those titles will still limited north of the border.
Given that Netflix's streaming service has been up and running in the U.S. for about five years and has more than 21 million customers, expecting the same breadth of catalogue on the Canadian side — which has been online for a little over a year with more than one million subscribers — isn't realistic, said Ropell, a Canadian himself.
Netflix Canada has "more than a third of the content they have (in the U.S.) but we've only been operating less than a fifth of the time," Ropell said.
"We're already doing fairly well if you compare the two over the same period of time, but within a year I don't see us ramping up to that quantity. But quality, I think we can get closer."
In recent months Netflix Canada added in-demand films such as "127 Hours, "Black Swan" and "True Grit" and the critically acclaimed TV show "Breaking Bad." He said the content selection is up about 50 per cent from when the site launched in Canada last September.
Ropell also pointed to the recent acquisition of four seasons of the teen drama "90210" and six seasons of the original "Beverly Hills, 90210." That may not be a big deal for many subscribers, but the shows have proven to be popular.
"I would say it's a quality experience in that it's something that's very recent and in high demand and it's doing very well. It was not a slam dunk for us to do it, we took a bit of a risk to say, 'Will that demographic respond to this on the site?' and they have.
"That's kind of the way we're looking at it, to say, '(The Canadian selection) is broad, it's deeper. It's not in terms of quantity as deep (as in the U.S.) but in terms of quality ... we're there, we've got good content.'"
The company has no news for Canadian "Arrested Development" fans who have jealously read about the cult classic returning for a fourth season exclusively on Netflix in the U.S.
When asked if Netflix attempted to acquire all international rights to the series, Ropell wouldn't speak directly to why Canadians aren't getting access.
"I think generally speaking our strategy is to try when the opportunity is there, try to acquire for all the territories we're in, but I can't comment on ('Arrested Development') directly because some of these things are still in flux," he said.
"Sometimes the opportunities are there and sometimes they aren't and it really highlights the fact that (Canada) is a separate territory, there are discrepancies and differentiations in rights and sometimes we're the beneficiary of that in Canada ... and sometimes we're not."
Steve Swasey, Netflix's vice president of communications, added that there will always be cases in which the company pleases one territory with a content deal but lets down its other markets.
"Americans were disappointed when we launched in Canada with 'Mad Men' and we didn't have it in the U.S. for another year," he noted.
Ropell did add that Canadian and Latin American subscribers — but not Americans — will get access to the acclaimed BBC drama "The Hour" in the new year.
He's also excited about snapping up the exclusive Canadian, U.S., and Latin American rights to Steven Van Zandt's upcoming show "Lilyhammer," about a U.S. mobster who flees to Norway as part of the witness protection program.
"It's a new show with him reprising his role essentially from 'The Sopranos,' Ropell said.
"He owns the rights to that character, the actual persona is his and that's why he's able to port it over."
Ropell also hinted Canadians will soon see episodes of "Dexter" and "Numb3rs" available, as well as more "Californication."
While Netflix sparked an exodus of customers when it recently raised its subscription prices in the U.S. for those renting DVDs by mail, Swasey said there's no changes coming to Canada.
"We're done with price increases," he said.