Canada 2015 in Review: Cord Cutting, Hollywood Shoots Make Headlines

Toronto Skyline - H 2015
AP Images

Toronto Skyline - H 2015

HBO and Showtime struck new deals north of the border as local players battled Netflix, and Vice Media returned to its roots in Canada.

This year saw Canadian film and TV thrown into full upheaval by new streaming players beyond Netflix and increased cord cutting as over-the-top (OTT) video services and mobile TV proliferated.

Meanwhile, added currency savings from a plunging Canadian dollar had Hollywood marching north with a growing number of film and TV shoots.

Here is a look at the big media and entertainment industry stories of 2015 in Canada.

Plunging Dollar Has Canada Taking a Bigger Bite of Hollywood

The likelihood of bumping into a Hollywood film or TV shoot on the streets of Vancouver and Toronto jumped in 2015, thanks to the Canadian dollar tanking in value compared to the American greenback. The so-called loonie late in the year hovered in the 73 cents range.

That, combined with local tax credits, had Toronto hosting recent shoots for Warner Bros.' Suicide Squad and Ricky Gervais' directorial debut, Special Correspondents. Plus, Paramount's Star Trek Beyond, the Ryan Reynolds-starrer Deadpool and Steven Spielberg's The BFG also filmed on location in Vancouver.

Industry observers expect 2016 to be another strong year for Hollywood shoots north of the border.

Canadian Pay TV Market Gets Makeover to Battle Netflix

Canadian TV giant Bell Media secured exclusive Canadian licensing deals for HBO and Showtime programming as the country's battle for pay TV subscribers heated up in 2015 amid the continued success of Netflix.

Those supply deals came as Bell unveiled plans to expand nationally its Eastern Canadian pay TV channel, The Movie Network, as rival Corus Entertainment agreed to shutter its Movie Central pay TV service in Western Canada.

Bell and HBO also inked a new original co-production partnership to jointly create premium, made-in-Canada series for the international market.

The acquisition of HBO and Showtime series aimed to keep popular series like Game of Thrones and Homeland away from Netflix Canada, which to date has secured around 3.8 million subscribers in English-speaking Canada. 

Vice Returns to Canada to Help Woo Gen Y

New York-based Vice Media, which began as a free magazine in Montreal in 1994, opened a new Toronto production hub in 2015 as part of a $100 million multiplatform partnership with cable and wireless phone giant Rogers Communications.

The partnership has Vice as a fast-growing digital media player expanding counterintuitively into TV as Rogers looks to attract Gen Y cord cutters. Vice and Rogers will co-produce content for TV, smartphones and desktops, and launch Viceland as a Canadian cable channel in early 2016.

Other popular U.S. digital brands expanding into Canada during 2015 included YouTube network Fullscreen, Collective Digital Studio and lifestyle MCN Kin.

Canada Ends Heavy-Handed Grip on U.S. Cable Channels

The CRTC, Canada's media and telecom regulator, dropped genre protections for local cable channels that opened the way for American TV services to enjoy first-time guaranteed access to the Canadian market. That meant that local TV providers saw a key safety net disappear.

Radical deregulation of Canadian TV in 2015 now means popular U.S. channels like ESPN and HBO will no longer be kept off of Canadian TV because they may compete with existing local channels. That allowed Corus Entertainment to launch a Canadianized version of the Disney Channel via a licensing deal with Disney/ABC Television Group and to launch Cartoon Network via a licensing and branding deal with Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting System.

The wider sea change in the Canadian market will now see open competition among all cable channels, local or foreign.

Cirque Du Soleil Sold to U.S., Chinese Investors

Cirque du Soleil in 2015 turned to cracking the Chinese market after selling a controlling stake to U.S. private equity firm TPG Capital. The deal, valued at around $1.5 billion, also saw Shanghai-based Fosun Capital Group take a minority stake in the global entertainment group.

Billionaire Cirque founder Guy Laliberte still holds a minority stake as he looked to new strategic partners to take his company forward. Laliberte started out as a fire-breather before helping launch the Montreal-based circus troupe in 1984.

With fresh ownership, the Canadian-based circus troupe is set for a major expansion in China and other Asian markets. The first Cirque offering for China will be Toruk – The First Flight, a live arena show inspired  by James Cameron's Avatar movie franchise, and with the Hollywood director on board as a creative consultant.

Canadian Cord-Cutting Gathers Pace

Traditional pay TV still has miles in the tank with Canadians, but continuing cord- cutting gave local TV players all sorts of reason for alarm in 2015.

A report from Convergence Consulting Group pointed to an estimated 97,000 subscribers set to ditch their pay TV packages in 2015, just up from 95,00 Canadians who scrapped their cable TV packages in 2014. Where are they going for their TV fix?

Netflix Canada launched in late 2010 and currently has around 3.8 million subscribers in English-speaking Canada. To slow the pace of cord-cutting and cord-shaving, Canada's TV regulator ordered cable unbundling to start in March 2016, making a la carte offers a reality north of the border in the new year.