Here's hoping House of Cards has a Havana episode next season. Netflix today is officially welcoming its first subscribers in Cuba.
For Cubans with an Internet connection (which is about 25 percent, though the government heavily restricts the content) and "access to international payment methods," Netflix is now streaming its original programs and several children's shows produced for the service by DreamWorks Animation.
Since the U.S. Treasury agreed to ease trade restrictions with the long-embargoed Caribbean nation, some American businesses have responded the way a sprinter reacts to a starter pistol. Already, MasterCard has said it will stop blocking transactions to the U.S. from Cuba as of March 1. American Express, too, has said it will operate in the country, although it hasn't revealed a timeline.
If TV rights negotiations in the United States are tricky, rights negotiations in a foreign country to whom all trade has been closed for five decades are, at best, labyrinthine. But Netflix produces enough of its own content (and co-produces with a number of partners) to set up a bare-bones version of its own service in Cuba without licensing third-party shows. Most importantly, by the time other streaming services make it into Cuba, Netflix will likely have secured a great deal more programming.
The service starts today, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said he's looking to find new content in Cuba rather than just bringing in programs from other parts of the world. "Cuba has great filmmakers and a robust arts culture," he wrote in a public statement, "and one day we hope to be able to bring their work to our global audience of over 57 million members."
Of course, those dealings will depend mightily on the ability of U.S. businesses to help increase the telecommunciations infrastructure in Cuba. Connectivity is vital for contemporary business, and its lack is felt to an appalling degree by the locals.