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How high will you go? Netflix price hike renews questions for streaming subscribers

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TORONTO — Another year, another Netflix price increase.

At least that’s how it might feel for Canadians after the streaming giant announced last week it’s once again inching up the cost of its most popular subscription packages by a dollar or two per month.

On Friday, Netflix said the price of its standard plan, which includes high-definition video and two simultaneous streams, will rise $1.50 to $16.49 per month, while the premium package, with Ultra HD access and four streams, is going up by $2 to $20.99.

The basic plan with standard definition video remains unchanged at $9.99.

While Netflix isn’t the only streaming giant to hike prices, it’s done so the most frequently, which leads London, Ont.-based analyst Carmi Levy to wonder if the company is testing how much more it can charge.

“The era of cheap streaming is drawing to an end,” he said.

“We can expect to see continued behaviour like this – small, fairly frequent increases – as Netflix tries to feel out in an experimental manner just how much resistance consumers have to price increases.”

Netflix last raised its Canadian prices in October 2020, boosting the standard plan by $1 and the premium plan by $2. However, subscribers felt an extra pinch last year when the company added GST or HST charges to its bills on Canada Day.

Price increases are becoming more of a regular feature at Netflix as it spends on more lavish TV and film projects, particularly for the international market where it sees room for growth. The company is also investing in mobile games production in hopes of hooking viewers to more interactive entertainment.

Other streaming companies have jacked up prices during the pandemic, too.

Disney Plus added another $3 to customers’ bills last year as it introduced more programming for grown-ups through a section of the service dubbed Star, while Bell Media’s Crave divided its packages differently to introduce a $9.99 mobile-only option or $19.99 streaming on any device.

Levy suggested no matter which platform boosts its price, the move itself is bound to have ripple effects across all services.

“Consumers are going to be looking at their streaming budgets and asking themselves why they’ve committed to more than one service,” he said.

For years, analysts have suggested that most households would bear the costs of up to three streaming platforms. And in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, streaming emerged as an ideal lockdown entertainment option leading more people to sign up.

However, a recent Bank of Canada survey found consumers appeared more concerned about inflation now than at any other time in the pandemic, which could tighten discretionary spending on non-essential items such as streaming packages which can be cancelled with the click of a button.

Richard Lachman, an associate professor at Ryerson University who studies digital content, said each dollar added to monthly bills pushes streaming companies closer to pricing themselves out of some households.

“These costs of what are now basic services are higher than you used to pay just for a cable bill,” Lachman said.

“You’re paying for high-speed internet that’s fast enough for the kids to be on school, and for you to be on meetings … plus your cellphone bill … so I think we’re going to hit some limits.”

If any of the streaming giants is sheltered from penny-pinching consumers, it’s almost certainly Netflix, suggested Kaan Yigit, a technology analyst at Solutions Research Group.

In July 2020, his company asked 900 Canadians who have used Netflix if they would recommend it to others. The response was an overwhelming 88 per cent “recommend” score with 65 per cent saying they were “very likely” to recommend.

“I’ve been in the research business for 25 years, and those are as high of numbers as I’ve ever seen,” Yigit said.

He added: “Will they come to a point where (higher costs) is going to begin to make a difference? It could happen, but right now is not the time.”

Netflix is set to report its year-end financial results Thursday, which could yield clues to how loyal its base is as the pandemic drags on.

While the company projects it will end 2021 with about 18.4 million new global subscribers, that’s not even half the spike seen in 2020 when more than 37 million newcomers joined.

Lachman said he’s hearing more viewers talk about “fine-tuning” how they subscribe to Netflix, Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video, meaning they sign up for a service, binge the shows they want and then cancel.

“The push towards subscription models was to make us forget how much we’re paying and just count on it, like a utility,” he added.

But with every email notifying subscribers of a price increase, “it reminds us to double check how much we’re paying.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2022.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

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Ray Liotta, ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Field of Dreams’ star, dies

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By Lindsey Bahr And Martin Adames

Ray Liotta, the blue-eyed actor best known for playing mobster Henry Hill in “Goodfellas” and baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams,” has died. He was 67.

Liotta’s publicist, Jen Allen, said he was in the Dominican Republic shooting a new movie and didn’t wake up Thursday morning. An official at the Dominican Republic’s National Forensic Science Institute who was not authorized to speak to the media confirmed the death of Ray Liotta and said his body was taken to the Cristo Redentor morgue.

Robert De Niro, in an emailed statement, said “I was very saddened to learn of Ray’s passing. He is way too way young to have left us. May he Rest in Peace.”

Lorraine Bracco, who played Karen Hill in “Goodfellas” tweeted Thursday that she was, “Utterly shattered to hear this terrible news about my Ray. I can be anywhere in the world & people will come up & tell me their favorite movie is Goodfellas. Then they always ask what was the best part of making that movie. My response has always been the same…Ray Liotta.”

Alessandro Nivola, who recently appeared with Liotta in “The Sopranos” prequel film “The Many Saints of Newark” wrote, “I feel so lucky to have squared off against this legend in one of his final roles. The scenes we did together were among the all time highlights of my acting career. He was dangerous, unpredictable, hilarious, and generous with his praise for other actors. Too soon.”

Seth Rogen, who Liotta acted with in the 2009 comedy “Observe and Report” tweeted, “He was such a lovely, talented and hilarious person. Working with him was one of the great joys of my career and we made some of my favorite scenes I ever got to be in. A true legend of immense skill and grace.”

The Newark, New Jersey, native was born in 1954 and adopted at age six months out of an orphanage by a township clerk and an auto parts owner. Liotta always assumed he was mostly Italian — the movies did too. But later in life while searching for his birth parents, he discovered he’s actually Scottish.

Though he grew up focused on playing sports, including baseball, during his senior year of high school, the drama teacher asked him if he wanted to be in a play, which he agreed to on a lark. Whether he knew it or not at the time, it planted a seed, though he still assumed he’d end up working construction. And later, at the University of Miami he picked drama and acting because they had no math requirement attached. He would often say in interviews that he only started auditioning for plays because a pretty girl told him to. But it set him on a course. After graduation, he got an agent and soon he got his first big break on the soap opera “Another World.”

It would take a few years for him to land his first big movie role, in Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild” as Melanie Griffith’s character’s hotheaded ex-convict husband Ray. He was 30 years old at the time and hadn’t had a steady job in five years. In an interview in 1993, he told The Associated Press that he wanted to get the part on his own merits even though he knew Griffith. When that didn’t work, he “phoned Melanie.

“I hated doing it, because that’s politics for me; calling someone to help you out. But I kind of realize that’s part of what it’s all about,” he said.

The turn earned him a Golden Globe nomination. A few years later, he would get the memorable role of the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams.” Though it moved many to tears, it wasn’t without its critics. Liotta remembered hearing a baseball announcer during a Mets game complain that he batted the opposite way Joe Jackson did.

“(Bleep) you! He didn’t come back from the dead either!” Liotta recalled thinking.

His most iconic role, as real life mobster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” came shortly after. He and Scorsese had to fight for it though, with multiple auditions and pleas to the studio to cast the still relative unknown.

Roger Ebert, in his review, wrote that “Goodfellas” solidified Liotta (and Bracco) as “two of our best new movie actors.”

“He creates the emotional center for a movie that is not about the experience of being a Mafioso, but about the feeling,” Ebert continued.

In a 2012 interview, Liotta said that, “Henry Hill isn’t that edgy of a character. It’s really the other guys who are doing all the actual killings. The one physical thing he does do, when he goes after the guy who went after Karen — you know, most audiences, they actually like him for that.”

In the same interview, he marveled at how “Goodfellas” had a “life of its own” and has only grown over time.

“People watch it over and over, and still respond to it, and different ages come up, even today, teenagers come up to me and they really emotionally connect to it,” he said.

It didn’t matter the size of the role, or even the genre, Liotta always managed to stand out and steal scenes in both dramas and comedies, whether as Johnny Depp’s father in “Blow” or Adam Driver’s bullish divorce lawyer in “Marriage Story.”

Mafiosos seemed to be his specialty (he even narrated an AMC docu-series called “The Making of the Mob”), though he was wary of being typecast. He turned down the part of Ralphie on “The Sopranos” because of it. But he’d still end up playing a mob type with James Gandolfini in Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly.” And later, he would pay his own ticket to audition for “The Many Saints of Newark.”

“I’m really not sure what made me so determined,” he told The Guardian last year. “But I was and luckily it all worked out.”

Liotta also often played various law enforcement types, from cops and detectives to federal agents in films as diverse as “Unlawful Entry,” “Cop Land,” “Narc,” “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Observe and Report.” Many were corrupt.

He got to be a victim of Hannibal Lecter in the 2001 film “Hannibal” and played Frank Sinatra in the TV movie “The Rat Pack,” which got him a Screen Actors Guild nomination. For gamers, he’s immortalized as the voice of Tommy Vercetti in the video game “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.” He also starred opposite Jennifer Lopez in the series “Shades of Blue.”

Liotta has one daughter, Karsen, with ex-wife Michelle Grace and was engaged to be married to Jacy Nittolo at the time of his death.

“The business is rough, no matter where you’re at in your career,” Liotta said in 2012. “There’s always some reason for them to say no to you — that part of it is horrible… But the job itself — making people believe that what they’re seeing is really happening—that’s still a challenge, putting that puzzle together. You know, what can I say, I still like playing pretend. And it’s sure a fun way to make a living.”

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The Kids in the Hall are back and getting along. ‘This time we’re not lying’

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TORONTO — It seems the Kids are all right.

Infighting between members of the Canadian sketch comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall has been well-documented over the years, but as they promote their new Amazon Prime Video reboot of their original series, Dave Foley insists they “get along.”

“We would say that anyway, but this time we’re not lying,” fellow troupe member Kevin McDonald addedin a video interview with Foley.

“We still fight and we still backstab each other, but that’s the way we work,” agreedFoley.

“I always say when I’m on set: ‘Backstab away, just don’t tell me. Never ever tell me.’ And we’re OK,” jested McDonald.

Debuting May 13, the new Toronto-shot series is named after the original sketch series “The Kids in the Hall,” which aired from 1989 to 1995 on CBC. It also ran on CBS and HBO in the United States.

Joining it on the streaming service on May 20 and following its own premiere on Tuesday this week at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto is “The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks,” a two-part documentary on the troupe’s past, present and future directed by Reg Harkema.

The doc includes archival footage, behind-the-scenes clips, and interviews with comedy legends who all took inspiration from the beloved Canadian troupe.

As Harkema noted at a Hot Docs press conference in March, he felt “proud” to examine the group’s impact on other well-known comics who have long seen The Kids in the Hall as “personalities that broke open a window to the (comedy) world for them.”

The fivesome, which also includes Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson, originally timed the comeback fortheir 30th anniversary in 2019.

“But then a different pandemic called The Kids in the Hall’s Inability to Make a Decision happened, so it took a little longer,” said Foley, citing delays including a longing to reunitewith the Lorne Michaels-founded production company Broadway Video, and find a global platform.

McDonald said they started writing the series before the COVID-19 pandemic hitand had to take a year off before resuming due to lockdowns.

Rounding up the gang again was like wrangling cats, they said.

“Cats that all have individual representation,” Foley said.

“And ex-wives,” added McDonald.

“Multiple ex-wives,” jested Foley.

“The Kids in the Hall” started in 1984 and pushed the boundaries of TV comedy, with cast members in drag and sketches that tackled heavy topics, including religion and sexuality.

“I always feel I’m a better person when I play a woman,” said Montreal-born McDonald, whose other credits include the Fox sitcom “That ’70s Show.”

“I’m smarter, I’m kinder to people. So it’s always fun — besides the three-hour makeup process.”

Memorable Kids in the Hall characters have included McKinney’s Headcrusher and Chicken Lady, Thompson as the Queen, McCulloch’s Cabbage Head, and Foley and McDonald as the Sizzler Sisters.

The new series will have a “very low quotient of nostalgia,” said Foley, noting they’re “basically just pursuing new ideas and new material.”

“Are we allowed to say characters? I don’t know if we’re allowed to say,” said McDonald, to which Foley quipped: “Allowed? We don’t follow no stinking rules.”

McDonald then let it slip that Thompson’s gay socialite character Buddy Cole likely returns, as do Toronto police officers played by McCulloch and McKinney.

The new eight-episode series was shot in studio and outside locations.

The proliferation of short comedy sketches on social media platforms including TikTok didn’t influence the length of their material, they said, noting a sketch comedy show should be short anyway.

“This is going to shock you: I’ve never looked at TikTok,” said Foley, to which McDonald said he hadn’t either.

The Kids continued to collaborate after the original series ended, reuniting for the 1996 comedy film “Brain Candy,” several tours and the 2010 CBC miniseries “Death Comes to Town.”

But, as Paul Myers wrote in his 2018 book “The Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy,” it wasn’t always friendly.

Myers said Foley and McDonald sometimes fought with McKinney and McCulloch, while Thompson was a mediator of sorts. Foley once quit the troupe, resulting in tension on the set of “Brain Candy.”

But since 2000, they happily get together every three or four years to do something, says McDonald, likening their run now to “a B-movie version of Monty Python’s career.”

“I refer to it not as a reunion but a relapse,” jested Toronto-raised Foley, whose other credits include the series “NewsRadio,” “Hot in Cleveland” and “Celebrity Poker Showdown.”

“Yes. It’s a relapse. In a way, we’re drinking again and it feels good,” added McDonald.

“In between those three or four years, I look forward to it all the time. And I’m never disappointed. I’m always thinking ‘Oh, we’re funny. Oh, we love and get mad at each other the same way that we always do.'”

As long as there are no mirrors in the room, they always feel like they’re still “angry 20-year-old comedians,” said Foley.

McDonald agreed.

“Even when we’re about to look at the editing and I’m about to see a scene with Dave and I, I imagine I’m going to see skinny, crazy-haired Kevin and young Dave — and I always get shocked,” added McDonald. “I’m still always shocked when I see footage of us and we don’t look like we did.”

Said Foley: “Because we still act like we did.”

-With files from Sadaf Ahsan

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2022.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

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