Canadian Networks Clash Over Exclusive NHL Game Streaming Content

The rival TV sport giants are in a digital battle

The new NHL season is barely underway, but Canadian TV sport giants BCE and Rogers Communications are already battling over an exclusive NHL GameCenter Live app.

Rogers is touting its mobile app as offering up-close, on-ice camera angles as a free bonus to cable and Internet customers who subscribe to its NHL GameCenter Live package. Rogers offers the live out-of-market NHL game subscription service to Canadians as part of a sweeping $4.6 billion (CA$5.2 billion), 12-year national TV rights agreement with the pro hockey league.

But rival BCE, which operates the TSN sports network, has asked the CRTC, the country's TV regulator, to order Rogers to offer the exclusive content from the GamePlus streaming app to rival TV distributors as required by local TV rules.

"There can be no doubt about Rogers' intended strategy to leverage its $5.2 billion investment in exclusive NHL broadcast rights through the series of anti-competitive acts," BCE's Bell TV service said in an October 14 application to the CRTC.

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But Rogers Communications spokeswoman Patricia Trott dismissed the BCE's concerns, insisting the GamePlus app is not designed for conventional TV broadcasts. "It’s a shame that Bell is trying to stop innovation in hockey — this may be one of the reasons they failed to secure the rights in the first place," Trott said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.

The industry battle over distribution access to exclusive camera angles, like a referee helmet cam or an arena sky cam that captures end-to-end rushes by NHL players, is making waves because Rogers Communications is looking to TV hockey to assure a future for its TV channel brands in the digital age.

Rogers is looking to leverage its cable, phone and TV assets to profit from an NHL rights deal costing $284 million (CA$300 million) in the current first year of the new TV deal, before costs rise to $474 million (about CA$500 million) in the final year of the contract term.

BCE is betting the CRTC will agree that the GamePlus app's unique viewing options for mobile devices will give Rogers an anti-competitive advantage as it looks to retain cable TV customers in an increasingly over-the-top digital landscape dominated by Netflix.

Said BCE  in its CRTC petition, "This gives an advantage to Rogers' own wireless and Internet distribution businesses. That is precisely what Rogers is doing it."

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