No shame in cutting the cord, shame on cable companies failure to innovate

Like most people in my generation (I refuse to call us the “M” word), I take full advantage at the sheer amount of technology at our disposal. I admit to being an absolute glutton when it comes to consuming pop culture and content. Podcasts, YouTube series, movies and T.V. shows new and old — I’m sure I’ve done irreparable damage to my attention span, because I often find myself listening to a podcast while watching a YouTube video on my laptop, as an old Netflix favourite streams on the T.V.

Chances are I am an extreme outlier — just ask my wireless provider MTS. Their “unlimited data” package barely meets the demands of my ruthless mobile data consumption, as I get warned I’m approaching their monthly 15 GB cap around the 15th of each month. According to my phone, I’ve burned through 55.8 GB of data since Feb. 23.

(How they got away with ads offering “unlimited” LTE data — recently rebranded as “flat rate data”— only to throttle you down to 3G OR LESS once you’ve reached an arbitrary cap number is beyond me, but that’s best left for a different post. )

Given my insatiable data desire, I’m constantly on the search for more access to content. When Netflix came to Canada, I was an early adopter. When I learned how to get around the regional blocks with browser VPNs, I jumped for joy.

(QUICK NOTE: If you’re still using Hola Unblocker, stop right now! There are safer options)

But regional block runarounds exist in a legal grey area. Netflix doesn’t like it, as it clearly states in it’s terms and conditions:

You also agree not to: circumvent, remove, alter, deactivate, degrade or thwart any of the content protections in the Netflix service; use any robot, spider, scraper or other automated means to access the Netflix service

Remember those infamous anti-pirating messages that would play at the beginning of some DVDs, where they’d attempt to equate downloading to petty street crime (IT Crowd clip below for overdramatic effect)? Well the head of one of Canada’s biggest cable providers has recently come out with a similar stance against Canadians who use VPNs to access the American-version of Netflix.

During a keynote address Wednesday at the 2015 Canadian Telecom Summit, Bell Media’s new CEO Mary Ann Turcke told a story about how her daughter admitted to using a VPN to get access to American Netflix, telling the Toronto audience that her 15-year-old came up with her asking if she knew you could “hack” into U.S. Netflix and access all the shows not available to Canadians.

“She is 15 and she was stealing,” said Turcke. “Suffice to say, there is no more VPNing.”

Turcke used the anecdote to jump off to a bigger point about society’s lack of outrage over VPN, and the casual way in which Canadians have embraced the practise. A Forum Research telephone poll found that 1-in-3 English-speaking Netflix users admit to using VPNs to access region-blocked content.

“It has to become socially unacceptable to admit to another human being that you are VPNing into U.S. Netflix. Like throwing garbage out of your car window, you just don’t do it. We have to get engaged and tell people they’re stealing.”

Wow. I don’t really know where to start.

The thing that this cable company CEO is missing — or willfully ignorning — is the simplicity in which Netflix and other online streaming methods connect people to the content they want faster than ever before. We pay Netflix for their service, because it’s quick, it’s convenient and it simply works! But due to the strict copyright laws, shows and movies that we have access to through traditional media aren’t available to us.

So some brilliant minds on the Internet figure out a way to unlock American content for everyone. Yes, I want to binge watch 30 Rock and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia over and over again. I don’t understand the legal and copyright reasons why those shows and many others aren’t available north of the border, but I do understand that, with just a few quick clicks, suddenly they are.

Even if I’m watching something ‘for free’, I will always look for ways to financially support the content creators that I adore in other ways (If they come through town on a tour, sell merch, and even by buying DVDs/collectors editions ect.), because in the end I want to support the people making the shows I love. Netflix falls under that category with some of their fantastic original programming.

But the ‘middleman’ industry that Turcke represents — complete with awful customer service track records, a legacy of price gouging customers for things they don’t want, and a history of lobbying against net neutrality regulations that reflect the free and borderless online market — is the real reason why myself and thousands of others are cutting the cord and finding more convenient and cheaper alternatives to access the content we want.

Bell owns CTV, a TV channel who’s idea of creating Canadian content is Canuck versions of American reality TV shows (with shows like Corner Gas being a rare exception). Other than that, their offerings are nothing that I can’t stream online (The Daily Show, clips from Conan and the other late-night hosts), or shows that I would never bother to watch in the first place (hello Big Bang Theory). And I don’t see any shame in shunning a backwards industry that’s bottom line is trying to squeeze out every last penny they can.

Meanwhile, programmers online continue to innovate faster and better ways to stream and/or download content faster than ever. Bell can choose to remain stuck in the past, but for me and millions of other Canadians, it just doesn’t make sense to pretend that better options don’t exist online.

The reaction on social media to Turcke’s comments have been quite entertaining too, here are my favourites:

Before I wrap things up, I just wanted to reiterate some of the points I read on Twitter. Is it not super telling that the CEO of one of Canada’s biggest media companies, presumably with full access to all of Canadian cable’s offerings — including Bell’s recent attempt to cut into Netflix’s market share, CraveTV — was still more inclined to “steal” American Netflix? Instead of scolding her daughter, maybe Mary Ann could have asked what inclined her to do such?

Because if Bell’s new CEO is going to remain blind to the actual demands and desires of her own 15-year-old girl, a member of a potentially even MORE technologically addicted generation than my own, I’m feeling more and more comfortable with my decision to cut the cord and embrace the Internet.





We Will Remember Them…

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Canadians from coast to coast stop what they are doing to remember the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much in defence of our country. We also acknowledge the men and women who are committed to protecting the rights and freedoms for future generations.

This year, I spent my Remembrance Day at the Minto Armouries at 969 St. Matthews Ave.

Members of the CF walking into the Minto Armouries ahead of Tuesday's Remembrance Day ceremonies
Members of the Canadian Forces walking up to the Minto Armouries ahead of Tuesday’s Remembrance Day ceremonies
A Staff Seargant takes roll call.
A Sergeant taking roll call.
A veteran and his service dog sit up in the viewing gallery.
A veteran and his service dog sit up in the viewing gallery.
A young boy and his father.
Young boy walks with his father.
Panoramic shot of the  Minto Armouries ahead of the Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Panoramic shot of the Minto Armouries ahead of the Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Canadian Forces members await marching orders as the ceremony draws to a close.
Canadian Forces members await marching orders as the ceremony draws to a close.
A candid moment of a Canadian military family.
Candid moment of a Canadian military family.



All photos were taken with my iPhone 5S.

Sargent & Victor & Me: A one-woman show by Debbie Patterson

This past Tuesday, the CreComm first-years were all tasked with going to see a new theatre production being put on at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film at The University of Winnipeg. Sargent & Victor & Me is a one-woman play written and performed by Debbie Patterson, presented by Theatre Projects Manitoba. Patterson has multiple sclerosis, which has robbed her the use of her left leg. 

I described the play as a sort of theatrical documentary of sort. It’s at one time a deeply personal monologue (shared by Patterson, as Gillian, one of several characters in the play) about life with MS, and then Patterson seemlessly transitions into a different character. Patterson uses her medical condition as a metaphor to describe the decline of the once vibrant neighbourhood that has been largely taken over by gangs, drugs and violence. What makes it feel like a documentary is the knowledge that the dialogue for all the other characters in the play are based off of interviews that Patterson conducted with people who live around the infamous intersection of Sargent and Victor. The play is set in a food bank at the First Lutheran Church in Winnipeg’s West End, and the stages was decorated with large round tables, a few chairs, and boxes filled with food for hampers. 

Pretty much everything about the play was done wonderfully. The mood was set with music performed provided by John K Samson and Christine FellowsThe set design and lighting were carefully considered, and helped to lead the action and provide visual clues as to which character Patterson was channeling. Patterson’s performance, which I will be discussing in detail a little further down this page, was great. While some people I’ve talked to after the show said that the characters felt like broad stereotypes, I was most impressed at Patterson’s ability to really nail specific mannerisms that instantly told the audience which character she had moved to. 

I have some experience with theatre, both as a performer and as a member of the audience, but I had never seen a one-person show. In some ways, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see such a big space for just one person to explore. And despite her physical limitations, Patterson and director Arne MacPherson did a great job of fully utilizing the space on stage. I was especially impressed with her character work, given that I’ve got some experience as an improviser attempting to create compelling characters only using your voice and physical mannerisms. 

Patterson spent months conducting interviews for this theatre piece. She does a really good job creating the characters on stage, but it isn’t until the very end of the play when a series of brief clips from the actual interview recordings are played that you realize just how spot on her acting was. One character, Theresa the 15-year-old gang member, could have almost been considered an over-the-top portrayal, until you hear the real Theresa’s voice and sniffs and realize that Patterson really took the time and preparation to get every little mannerism down.

The Sargent & Victor part of the play didn’t affect me too much. I’ve spent most of my life in Charleswood and the south end of the city and could probably count the number of times I’ve been in the vicinity of the intersection of Sargent Ave. and Victor St. on one hand. I could still relate to the character’s personal struggles with the state of the neighbourhood, but I was more drawn to Patterson’s own inclusion into the story.

I will admit that my knowledge on the toll that MS takes on the body is quite limited. I found Patterson to be a powerful performer, and was moved at several points during the show. The show offered a good balance between humourous moments and dramatic stories, and I was certainly drawn more towards the dramatic stories. Patterson’s ability to communicate the pain and frustration that comes with MS really hit home and left a lasting impression with me.

I was pleasantly surprised by Sargent & Victor & Me, and would recommend checking it out before it concludes it’s run at the Asper Centre on March 9. 



Over nine hundred and ninety-nine farewells.

This week, we have been asked by our professors to blog about a book we were assigned to read in Journalism. Here we go:

A Thousand Farewells” is a work of non-fiction written by Palestinian-Canadian journalist Nahlah Ayed. Ayed chronicles her life, from her family’s humble beginnings travelling between the Middle East and Canada when Nahlah was a young girl, through to her career as a journalist with the CBC. The second half of the book is when things really start to pick up, as Ayed shares her experiences covering breaking news in the Middle East, including the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Arab Spring protests that began in 2011.

Ayed offers her unique perspective on these major international events as a journalist who was on the ground talking with people directly affected by these conflicts, including some harrowing moments she endured herself.

Question time:

What works in this book? What does not work? Why?

What I thought worked best in this book was the second half of the book when she begins to describe her experiences covering the 2003 Iraq invasion and the Arab Spring.
She also talks about the difficulties and intolerance she has encountered as a female journalist working in the Middle East, which must make the prospect of heading into these volatile situations all the more risky.

I feel like the book could have included a bit more context, or back stories to describe the causes behind some of these conflicts. At times, it seems as if Ayed takes for granted how knowledgeable her audience is to politics and history from the Middle East region. However, there were only a few moments when reading it that I was forced to do some research to learn the background of whats going on.

Also, some maps that outline the different places she’s been to throughout her life might have added some perspective to just how unrooted her life was at times.

What can journalists learn from this book?

As an aspiring journalist, this book has reinforced the idea of hitting the pavement, talking to people and doing your own persistent digging for the story. Often times, in my experience as a student journalist, it’s just too convenient to take the easy route and go by whatever the press release says or to stick with the safe interviews or leads, instead of digging to find the truth or the story hidden within the story.

How does it compare to another non-fiction work of your choice in any medium?


Okay, so this might seem like an odd connection to make, but the last book I’ve read written by a journalist was Anchorboy by Jay Onrait. Granted, from afar these two  books appear to have very little in common from except that they were both written by Canadians working in the field of journalism, and that they were both available in paperback versions, but I appreciate how both Anchorboy and A Thousand Farewells pull the curtain back and show the reader how the news gets collected and reported. Both of them have raised my interest in reading more memoir-style books written by influential journalists.

How did reading this book affect you? 

I think the point in this book that affected me the most was her early descriptions of where she lived in Winnipeg, which was very, very close to the area that I live in. Also, Nahlah talks about working at the Manitoban. I work at the Manitoban, so I decided to go through our archives to find old pieces written by her from the early-nineties.

Here are a few choice pieces that I thought I’d share by uploading them to imgur. Note, some of these are from the editorial page, and are not straight news stories.

It’s really encouraging to be on a similar path as someone who has ‘made it’ as a journalist. Ayed is one of six ‘notable contributors’ mentioned on the Manitoban’s Wikipedia page, and boy wouldn’t it be cool to see my name mentioned there too one day.

(Technically, that day could be right now, since Wikipedia is entirely editable…)