Canadian Regulator Ends Exclusive NHL and NFL Mobile Content Deals

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The CRTC rules Bell Mobility enjoyed a competitive advantage when it distributed pro hockey and football content to its own wireless phone subscribers.

TORONTO – Canada’s TV watchdog has fingered wireless phone operator Bell Mobility for keeping National Hockey League and National Football League content exclusively for its own mobile subscribers.

The landmark ruling signals exclusive sports content deals for vertically-integrated Canadian media groups are a thing of the past.

The CRTC ruled Bell Mobility showed undue preference for its own subscribers when it signed exclusive agreements for the mobile rights to NHL games and video highlights, and NFL content that includes prime-time games, playoff games and access to NFL Network programming.

"Canadians shouldn't be forced to subscribe to a wireless service from a specific company to access their favorite content," CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein wrote as part of the regulatory decision.

The ruling, which follows new CRTC policy changes for vertically-integrated media companies, means major carriers like Bell Canada, Shaw Communications and Rogers Communications that own and operate broadcast groups will not be allowed to offer TV content on an exclusive basis to their mobile or Internet subscribers.

Rival mobile phone operator Telus Corp. complained to the regulator that it failed to secure the NHL and NFL content held exclusively by Bell Mobility.

Telus told the CRTC that Bell Mobility’s exclusivity had a “material impact” on its ability to provide video, and especially marquee pro sport content, to its own subscribers with mobile devices and tablets.

The CRTC, agreeing that the NFL and NHL are “attractive sports properties,” said Bell Mobility now had to make the mobile rights to the content available to Telus on reasonable terms.

The new Canadian ban on deals that carve out exclusivity for mobile video 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.

"Healthy and fair competition between service providers will promote greater choice for Canadians,” the CRTC’s von Finckenstein said in his ruling.

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