Sundance Now Streaming Service Expands Beyond U.S.

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The service joins Netflix and Amazon in the international streaming arms race in Canada.

Sundance Now on Wednesday made it official: The U.S.-based streaming service of documentaries, movies and nostalgia TV has expanded operations into Canada.

This is Sundance Now's first move outside of the U.S. after launching in 2014. The digital platform, costing $6.99 a month in Canada after a free preview, becomes the latest American player after Netflix, Amazon, AMC's Shudder and Fandor to use Canada as a stepping stone to the world market.

George Schmalz, Sundance Now's curator, said there are "discussions" on additional moves into international markets, without specifying where or when. "We're still in the United States, and paying special attention to Canada now. It will be a targeted launch into whatever territory we're going into," he tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Sundance Now and rival U.S. streamers already in the Canadian market are aiming to fill gaps in Netflix's local Canadian offering, rather than replace the video streaming giant that launched there in late 2010. "We're another channel, another option. Our focus is on the documentary and art house movies. With that in mind, we offer something a little bit different than those other services," Schmalz says.

Netflix Canada, which currently has over 5 million subscribers, has also taken a big chunk of business from Canadian TV networks and local streaming services. Faced with fast-expanding U.S. digital competition, also including Apple iTunes, cable giant Rogers Communications in late 2016 closed down Shomi, a local subscription VOD service, while rival Bell Media continues to operate another local streamer, CraveTV.

A key driver for the U.S. expansion by Sundance Now and others is Canadians embracing their smartphones and other online distribution platforms for instant, anywhere TV access. Slowing their expansion are territorial rights for a host of popular U.S. series having already been licensed to Canadian broadcasters.

That leaves U.S digital platforms choosing to wait before they can go direct-to-consumer north of the border and target cord-cutters and cord-nevers with new OTT streaming and download services. The HBO Go app, for example, isn't available north of the border as rights to its movies and TV shows are held until 2018 by Bell Media, which operates Crave TV.

And Hulu and YouTube Red have yet to make any move into Canada. Brahm Eiley, president of Convergence Research Group, said his entertainment consulting firm is tracking three times as many video streaming plays in the U.S., compared to Canada.

"Rights are a major issue as to why Canada has less OTT (over-the-top), but some of this will change over time, and we will see more OTT offerings in Canada," he added. The U.S. streaming pipeline into Canada may eventually be filled by cable-style internet mini bundles like Sony's PlayStation Vue, Dish Network's Sling TV, AT&T's DirecTV Now and YouTube TV, all of which are only available in the U.S. for now.

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