Canadian Cable Unbundling Blowback: Will U.S. Broadcasters Say No?

AMC (home of "The Walking Dead") is among the networks that viewers would be able to "pick-and-pay."
AMC (home of "The Walking Dead") is among the networks that viewers would be able to "pick-and-pay."
 @Cudlitz

TORONTO -- The Canadian government this week unveiled plans to compel cable and satellite TV providers to allow subscribers to pick-and-pay for TV channels they want to view.

So how will U.S. suppliers of popular primetime series like The Walking Dead and Homeland react?

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Canadian industry players are debating whether Hollywood will say no if CNN and AMC are no longer bundled with MSNBC and BET on high-penetration tiers.

"U.S. specialty channels are more than likely to say no way to cable carriers in agreeing to pick-and-pay because they are set against any precedents that might spill over into the U.S. markets," Michael Hennessy, president and CEO of the Canadian Media Production Association, argued.

The Canadian producers' rep added that the CRTC, the country's TV watchdog, may strike U.S. broadcasters off of the list of authorized services here if they don't fall into line with the new cable unbundling regime.

And that would have Canadians fuming if they could no longer view their favorite American shows.

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Ken Engelhart, senior vp regulatory affairs for Rogers Communications, the country's biggest cable operator, said American and Canadian broadcasters may well say no to a new pick-and-pay regime.

But Engelhart, who supports some package unbundling to stop consumers from cutting the cord, added that the CRTC will pressure domestic broadcasters into accepting a new regime.

He also said that U.S. suppliers, as global players, will accept new rules and requirements to remain in the Canadian market.

That compliance may well follow lobbying in Ottawa and court challenges, and bring about difficult contract renewal talks between broadcasters and carriers as a consequence.

But it will come, Engelhart ventured: "Even though they don't have to, [American suppliers] will often voluntarily comply with local rules because that's the way they do business."

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