For years, Canadians have been able to watch episodes of iconic American classics such as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Batman" or "I Love Lucy." But where was Canada's TV heritage? Why was our homegrown fare always, after its initial run, locked away in a vault?
Well, "The Littlest Hobo" has finally been let out of his kennel. After years of development, the Canada Media Fund and Google Canada have teamed to launch encore+, a new YouTube channel giving viewers here and around the world access to decades of Canadian film and TV gold.
"We discovered that there are about 22,000 titles of Canadian content, financed by the public sector, that was not available to the public because it was stuck in analog," said Canada Media Fund CEO Valerie Creighton, who first approached Telefilm's Carolle Brabant with the idea five years ago.
"I still get calls every day at work: Where can I find 'Mr. Dressup'? Where can I find 'Littlest Hobo'?"
The idea, says Creighton, was to "take this iconic Canadian content that many of our stars of today started their careers in, and allow it to be seen by the public and the world."
Some of those stars were at Tuesday's launch of the YouTube channel, including Jennifer Dale, Sheila McCarthy, Henry Czerny, Aiden Devine, Pat Mastroianni, Michael Riley and John Wildman. They were thrilled that their work in shows such as "Da Vinci's Inquest," "Degrassi," "Little Mosque on the Prairie," "The Boys of St. Vincent" and "My American Cousin" are back.
Many of those actors could only see their early work on dusty VHS tapes or homemade digital transfers. Riley is thrilled to now be able to stream at least three shows in which he appeared, "This is Wonderland" "The Littlest Hobo" and 'Due South."
"With most Canadian projects," said the actor, "you do them, they get that little airing window and then they disappear, never to be seen again. It's kind of nice, after three decades in this business, to see a platform where there's going to be a resurgence."
Mastroianni, who won a Gemini Award playing Joey Jeremiah on "Degrassi," is happy to be on the new YouTube channel.
"We can't let Netflix rule everything," says the 45-year-old actor. "By having this channel available to fans, it's going to be high quality. You get to see my pimples in high definition."
Mastroianni hopes another series he did, the short-lived "Liberty Street," will also eventually find its way to YouTube. The process of acquiring content is ongoing, says Creighton, who is still chasing rights to one of her favourite shows, "The Beachcombers."
The encore+ videos are ad supported, with any revenue generated going back to rights holders.
"There's a real appetite for this kind of programming on YouTube," says Nicole Bell, communications manager at YouTube Canada.
Over the past three years, YouTube has seen a 400 per cent increase in watch time for Canadian broadcaster content, with 90 per cent of that coming from outside of Canada.
Earning extra revenue is not a top priority for Devine.
"It's more about this being an important cultural endeavour."
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.
Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press