Canadians Snubbed Once Again by Amazon with Latest HBO Partnership

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: an Internet streaming company adds a new service in the U.S. and Canadians are shut out from accessing it.

The latest in a far-too-plentiful collection of these stories was told on Wednesday, when Amazon reached an unprecedented deal with HBO for online streaming of many of the pay cable network’s programs. The multiyear pact makes Amazon’s Prime Instant Video the exclusive online-based video on demand subscription service to offer past seasons of such shows as “The Sopranos” and “The Wire.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the programming will be available only in the U.S.

What will American Amazon Prime customers get that Canadians can lookie but no touchie? No, “Game of Thrones” isn’t included, but full seasons of “Six Feet Under,” “Big Love,” “Deadwood,” “Family Tree,” and “Treme” are. Also included are early seasons of “Boardwalk Empire” and “True Blood,” as well as miniseries like “Band of Brothers” and “John Adams.” Previous seasons of currently running HBO shows such as “Girls,” “The Newsroom” and “Veep” will eventually show up (approximately three years after airing on HBO) as per the terms of the multiyear agreement. “Sex and the City,” “Entourage,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” are among those missing from the new offering that will debut on Amazon Prime May 21.

If you’re not familiar with Amazon Prime, here’s a little “primer,” as we compare the U.S. and Canadian service. American Prime users get free two-day shipping on millions of items in Amazon’s massive online catalogue, unlimited instant streaming of over 40,000 movies and TV episodes, and over 500,000 Kindle titles to borrow for free. Canadian Prime members get the same two-day shipping on millions of eligible items to most cities in Canada, and… discounted one-day shipping. Oh, and as a bonus, we get free standard shipping where one or two-day shipping are unavailable. So, to summarize: Americans = shipping discounts, free movies and free books; Canadians = shipping discounts.

While the Amazon deal is a first for HBO programming to be licensed out to an online streaming service—other than their proprietary and also-unavialable-to-Canadians HBO GO—on the surface it’s a big win for Amazon as it dukes it out with Netflix, the King of Streaming. Still, for most hardcore American cord-cutters, this doesn’t do much to further the Cord Cutting Plight. HBO is well-known for producing some of the best shows on television, and cord-cutters want access to their HBO shows ASAP.

“Game of Thrones” has a massive following; because there is no outlet to watch online other than to HBO subscribers, fans turn to illegal download. GOT is the most pirated TV program ever, with 1.4 million torrent downloads between January and February this year. We can only assume numbers have skyrocketed since Season four began earlier this month.

To further the unshakable premise that Canadians get the shaft when it comes to programming, let’s stay with “Game of Thrones” as an example. For those of us who actually pay for HBO, our On Demand access to GOT is limited to seasons three and four. American HBO subscribers get access to everything, and not just for Thrones. Unfair doesn’t even begin to describe it.

We’ve written about the vast chasm between the titles available to stream on U.S. and Canadian Netflix, but thankfully—as the post suggests—it’s not too difficult for Canadians to circumvent in order to get the same access. While nabbing American Netflix content is relatively simple, getting our eyes on content from Hulu Plus or movies and TV shows on offer from U.S. iTunes is anything but painless. Accessing Hulu Plus requires some PayPal trickery, and the only way (and I’ve tried everything) for Canadians to purchase U.S. iTunes content is to procure a prepaid American iTunes card while visiting south of the border.

These examples are merely a small piece of the hard-to-swallow pie of content unavailable to Canadians. One could easily cite many more instances of services, both online and off, where those on the wrong side of the 49th parallel draw the short straw.

The cord-cutting dream is becoming more of a reality in the U.S., but even the Amazon-HBO deal doesn’t go far enough. Here in Canada? Our cord-cutting dreams remain just that: dreams.