The Digital Segregation of Canadians

Back in the eighties, Vancouverites would frequently made odysseys across the border and visit the foreign temples of capitalism. At that time, there were a ton of brands which didn’t have a presence north of the border: Old Navy, The Gap, Banana Republic and so forth. People felt thrilled and sophisticated to be wearing clothes that you couldn’t buy in Canada.

Times changed, and we have more than enough of those once-exotic stores up here. However, there’s a new segregation in town, and it’s digital. Canucks can’t watch Hulu, the popular TV on demand service. Likewise for a lot of BBC programming.

Personally, I’m frustrated by the fact that I can’t use Rhapsody’s or Amazon’s DRM-free MP3 services. I’d happily pay ten bucks for an album, but not if it comes with DRM or in some proprietary format. So iTunes is out. I already subscribe to eMusic, but they often don’t have albums that I want (Hem, for example).

Canadians are second class citizens, I assume, because these services haven’t negotiated deals with Canadian rights holders. And they’re probably in no hurry–there’s only 30 million potential buyers up here.

In the meantime, my only alternatives are going to a store and buying a hunk of plastic (unreliable and not very green) or illegally downloading the albums I can’t buy on eMusic (sometimes unreliable). I trust we’ll get MP3s on eventually, but hopefully it takes less time than for The Gap to come to Vancouver.


  1. Yes, I find it somewhat ridiculous how much is available on versus Regionalization on the internet has gotten a bit out of hand.

  2. There are some PBS shows that you can’t watch on line because of this. Maybe I need to look in to some form of IP spoofing to get around this.

  3. It’s the same thing with quite a few American TV networks that allow Americans to watch streaming clips (or full episodes) of their favorite shows. Visit those sites with a Canadian IP and you’re out of luck.

  4. There must be someway of getting around the US network websites that require a US IP address. Does anyone know how to do this??

  5. I’m sure there are IP-based solutions, but I suspect that Amazon and Rhapsody also requires an American address and/or Visa card when you register.

  6. Being without a TV, I rely on online clips to watch shows I’m interested in. I used to watch The Daily Show and the Colbert Report on the Comedy Central website, but now they are blocked as apparently The Comedy Network has the rights to those shows in Canada. But the Comedy Network only has about a week’s worth of clips on their site, while the Comedy Networks has more than a year’s worth. And sometimes I want to watch those old shows!

  7. Add, ESPN streaming video, etc. etc. to this list.

    Here’s my workaround for the IP problem: Run the url through Google translator and translate from English to English.

  8. Basically for every country Amazon, as the iTunes store before them, need to negotiate with record labels and publishing associations. These two groups are never the most easy to deal with, and from what I’ve learned in Canada with a few exceptions (Nettwerk) they tend to be even worse than their US counterparts.

    As you noted the market is so small often it’s just not worth the hassle to focus their resources on the problem when we’ve got fewer potential customers than California.

    We’re a bit spoiled in Canada, where for a lot of things we’re treated like an extension of the US market. This is the case with movies, where we get the movies on the same date as they’re launched in the US. Most of the rest of the world doesn’t get that, so they don’t have the same level of expectations as we do in Europe or Asia.

  9. I still buy from iTunes and immediately burn tracks on an audio CD, then re-rip them to MP3. The audio quality loss is usually negligible. But it’s a hassle. The Amazon MP3 store would be great if we could get it.

  10. I noticed this state of affairs shortly after I moved here. It was even more confusing by the fact that it’s not the case (as far as I can tell) with most streamed radio. With the exception of some programs on the BBC, most content is available world-wide. Is it because it’s streamed and not downloaded? Low rather than high fidelity? Audio only (not movies and TV)? Probably a combination of many of these factors, not to mention the precedent of shortwave radio having brought in distant signals for decades, albeit to the few enthusiasts.

    In any case, it made it possible for me to get an Internet Clock Radio for our bedroom, in preparation for the CBC’s abandonment of Classical Music in the morning starting on Labour Day. According to the maker of the device (still available at London Drugs), we’ve got some 9,000 stations to choose from. Imagine if that were the case with your TV, your portable radio (iPhone 3G streaming radio app,anyone?), or the iTunes music store… I know it’s too much to hope for, but it would be wonderful if all other Intellectual Property was considered as ‘worthless’ as streaming radio is today.

  11. Geez, this is easy. Buy what you want from iTunes(please stop stealing from musicians – if they can’t make money, they’ll stop making music, d-uh). Burn a CD of what you bought. Re-import the CD into your library in the format you want.

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