CRTC Rules Against Exclusive TV Rights Deals

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TORONTO – Exclusive sports content deals for vertically-integrated Canadian media groups?

Not a chance, Canada’s TV watchdog said Wednesday.

The CRTC unveiled new rules to bar exclusive TV content deals by major cable and phone giants.

The aim is to stop vertically-integrated Canadian players from harming their competitors or curtailing consumer choice.

So major carriers like Bell Canada, Shaw Communications or Rogers Communications that own and operate broadcast groups will not be allowed to offer TV programs on an exclusive basis to their mobile or Internet subscribers.

The ban on deals that carve out exclusivity for mobile video in particular has much to do with making premium TV sport properties like the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NHL available to all Canadian wireless phone and Internet customers.

“Any program broadcast on television, including hockey games and other live events, must be made available to competitors under fair and reasonable terms,” the CRTC said Wednesday in its landmark ruling.

“Given the size of the Canadian market, there are benefits to integrating television programming and distribution services under the same corporate umbrella,” Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the CRTC, said in his ruling.

“At the same time, we felt that some safeguards were needed to prevent anti-competitive behaviour,” he added.

The new rules will stop major carriers from forcing a subscriber to buy a specific mobile device or subscribe to its Internet service to access their favorite TV shows or live sporting events.

Unlike the U.S. and UK markets, Canadian content carriers are barred from clinching exclusive rights for top-flight TV sport properties.

For example, the NFL Sunday Ticket offering was accessible only on Rogers' digital cable service until the CRTC ordered that the marquee NFL property be made available non-exclusively to a host of competing cable and satellite TV providers.

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