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Netflix: We didn't pay actors to dupe anyone

Actors give excited interviews to reporters at debut of Netflix service in Canada, but company says that's not what it wanted.

Netflix was accused of trying to pump up the excitement around the launch of its new Web video service in Canada today.

Screenshot by Greg Sandoval/CNET

During a scheduled press event in Toronto, members of Canada's media said they noticed that some of the responses from people in attendance sounded like "canned responses," according to the Web site of Canadian news service The Financial Post. Reporters began to grow suspicious.

They were right. Some of the people who attended the event were actors paid by Netflix, but according to Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey, the actors weren't paid to attend the press event. He said that prior to the press conference, Netflix shot a corporate video and the actors were hired to help with that. He said some of the actors stuck around for the press conference and answered questions but were unprompted by the company.

Yeah? Then what about the script that The Canadian Press said it obtained, which said: "Extras are to behave as members of the public, out and about enjoying their day-to-day life, who happen upon a street event for Netflix and stop by to check it out."

Swasey said the script was part of the corporate video. He said the only reason the company had a script in the first place was to satisfy Canadian law. To shoot a video and block off a street there, one must possess a script, according to Swasey.

"Some of the [actors] just got carried away," Swasey said. "We did not pay them to attend the press event. We didn't need to. The event was very well attended...somebody there said it was better attended than some press events for [Canada's] prime minister."

Salting a press event with actors is an old trick. It's hard to believe that Netflix, which has been on a roll this year, would knowingly risk its good reputation on a silly stunt like this.

Regardless of whether the allegations are true, they likely will overshadow the news that has sent Netflix's stock skyrocketing today. The company's share price finished the day up more than 6 percent after The Wall Street Journal reported Blockbuster, the once-dominant video-rental chain and Netflix's main rival for years, is finally preparing to file bankruptcy. When it comes to shooting corporate videos, it's time for Netflix to shout the old film-directors' line: "Cut, that's a wrap."