Amazon Video Launch in Canada Is Imminent, Top Broadcaster Says

The_Grand_Tour - H 2016
Screengrab/The Grand Tour

An executive from Bell Media told Canadian regulators on Tuesday that Amazon is planning a Dec. 1 soft launch in the country as a global video launch is expected.

On Tuesday, Canada's biggest media player told the country's TV regulator that Amazon Prime Video will launch north of the border on Dec. 1.

"Now, a new global OTT competitor — Amazon Prime — is entering the Canadian market in two days," Bell Media president Mary Ann Turcke told the CRTC during license renewal hearings in Ottawa to stress the level of competition that the broadcaster is experiencing from streaming players. "So it's not just our fellow Canadian broadcasters who will try to outbid us for first run, original programming, but it's Netflix and now Amazon, two entities that are not subject to the same regulatory requirements as us and that have astronomically more buying power than we do."

Amazon representatives did not respond to requests for comment. 

Bell Media runs the top-rated CTV network, a stable of cable channels and the CraveTV streamer already competing against Netflix Canada, which launched here in late 2010.

Outside the hearing room, Turcke told reporters Amazon had notified its Prime members they will bring a streaming video service to Canada on Dec. 1. "It feels a little bit like a soft launch, much the way we did iHeart [Radio], so we’ll see what happens," she said.

Turcke's heads-up comes as the industry widely anticipates Amazon to begin rolling out its streaming video service worldwide, challenging Netflix — which has already gone global with the exception of China, North Korea, Syria and the Crimea.

Amazon already runs its massive e-commerce business in Canada. And Canadians can already go onto the U.S.-based Amazon site and sign up for Amazon Prime Video to view a host of movies and TV shows by acquiring a U.S. IP and a Canadian Amazon Prime subscription.

Any expansion into Canada would be complicated by Amazon's licensing deals with local SVODs like CraveTV and Shomi to make originals like Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle available north of the border. Coincidentally, Shomi is set to shut down on Dec. 1 after failing to compete against Netflix Canada.

Amazon, led by chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos, currently formally offers its Amazon Prime Video service in the U.S., U.K., Japan, Germany and Austria and previously said it was also planning a launch in India. It hasn’t confirmed a global launch.

However, talk of a possible global video service rollout started in mid-November when Jeremy Clarkson, co-host of Amazon's new series The Grand Tour, tweeted that Amazon is going global. In a video he and Grand Tour co-hosts and former Top Gear colleagues James May and Richard Hammond elaborated that their show would be available on Amazon in more than 200 countries. 

The comments set Wall Street speculating about whether Amazon is prepping a global launch or planning to roll out video in select additional markets where it already has an e-commerce presence. “Unless they change their strategy and start offering video as a stand-alone product, which I doubt, then I don't see how they can be in 200 countries,” speculates Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Youssef Squali.  

Jefferies analyst Brian Fitzgerald has estimated that the launch of a global video streaming service would require an additional $1 billion-$2 billion video content spend from Amazon in 2017. In a recent report, he noted that the increase in spend "would bring Amazon's annual content expenditure in line with Netflix, which disclosed an about $6 billion content budget."