CBC Gem streaming service to launch exclusive content, partners with Wattpad


TORONTO — The CBC launched a new video streaming service Tuesday featuring live and on-demand programming for free as well as an option to upgrade to an ad-free premium membership for a monthly fee.

The public broadcaster said CBC Gem has more than 4,000 hours of content and will also offer original programming, including the upcoming drama series “Northern Rescue.” William Baldwin and Kathleen Robertson star in the family drama, which will launch exclusively on CBC Gem in Canada starting March 1.

The CBC also announced a partnership with Wattpad for emerging Canadian writers to create exclusive content for Gem, which gets its title from the nickname CBC uses internally for its logo.

Meanwhile, a partnership with Telefilm Canada allows CBC Gem to offer more than 100 Canadian feature films. All the Canadian films are available ad-free, with additional titles from the National Film Board of Canada to be added in the coming year.

All children’s programming is also provided ad-free within CBC Gem.

“We’re not trying to replace Netflix,” Catherine Tait, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, said in a phone interview.

“We’re saying, ‘You’re going to be stacking your (over-the-top) services. Make us no. 2 or no. 3.'”

Announced in September, CBC Gem replaces the public broadcaster’s previous app and offers the full programming slate, from drama to documentaries and sports. It’s available for free as an app for iOS and Android devices and online at cbcgem.ca, and on television via Apple TV and Google Chromecast.

Included are current and past seasons of favourite shows. Canadian titles on the service include “Kim’s Convenience,” “Baroness von Sketch Show,” “Schitt’s Creek,” “Murdoch Mysteries,” “Anne with an E,” “The Kids in the Hall” and “Being Erica.” International titles include “Fortitude,” “The Great British Baking Show,” “Luther,” “Portlandia” and “Top of the Lake.”

Films include “Barney’s Version,” “Cairo Time,” “Mommy” and “Midnight’s Children.”

The free version also has the ability to live stream CBC TV at any time, with access to 14 of the public broadcaster’s local channels and their newscasts.

CBC Gem, which is exclusive to Canada, also offers French-language programming from ICI Radio-Canada.

“Our understanding of audience behaviour is the person who has left linear television has left linear television,” Tait said.

“So our interest is reaching those people who have already gone to online services as their means of accessing content.”

The premium membership, available for $4.99 per month (with the first month free of charge), offers all on-demand content ad-free and exclusive access to a live stream of CBC News Network 24/7.

Tait said the premium side will also include additional programming, special premieres and previews to build value for subscribers. She said they looked for a price point that wouldn’t be a deterrent and that would eventually provide enough subscription revenue to replace ad revenue. In the meantime, the revenue model will rely on the resources the CBC currently has.

“We’ve made a decision internally that the future of television is probably going to be on-demand and traditional scheduled TV is on the decline and therefore we have to move with the trend — and there’s some pain during that process,” she said.

“As we build up the subscription base, there will not be sufficient subscription dollars to pay for the service at the outset. Our hope, of course, is — and we’ve done that math — that if you look at the $4.99 and you get 60 per cent of English Canadians watching Gem, that more or less covers the ad revenue that we’re getting right now from traditional advertising.”

All content on CBC Gem is available with closed captioning, and described video is available for most on-demand content.

CBC original titles that are currently on Netflix, such as “Schitt’s Creek,” will remain there dependent on the deals that are negotiated with each production individually, said the public broadcaster.

In addition, CBC/Netflix co-productions — including “Anne with an E” — have separate agreements in which they are available exclusively on CBC and CBC Gem in Canada for a specific window (and internationally on Netflix), before also becoming available on Netflix Canada.

The CBC said it plans to collaborate with new partners in order to expand the streaming library and offer additional Canadian and international content.

“We are not going to be buying programming from American networks, we’re not trying to compete with Netflix,” said Tait. “This is really about building a robust Canadian offering.”

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press