CRTC Warns Canadian Phone Giant Against Self-Dealing

Citing Comcast/NBC union, CRTC tells BCE not to keep lucrative target CTV sport programming away from competitors.

TORONTO -- In a re-run of the recent FCC hearings over the Comcast/NBC union, Canada’s TV regulator on Tuesday told phone giant BCE not to restrict rival cable and Internet providers’ access to content from takeover target CTV.

CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein and BCE head George Cope drew swords over questions of CTV content exclusivity and shared access in a rapidly converging and consolidating Canadian media landscape.

Von Finckenstein cited the recent Comcast/NBC transaction hearings, which focused on live sports and other so-called non-replicable programming that might be hoarded for new revenue opportunities.

“I met with the chairman of the FCC, and talked about it (non-replicable shows). They are worried about some programming that is vital and must-have and to make sure you can’t have the exclusive rights on that programming,” von Finckenstein told Cope and his BCE team looking for regulatory approval of their $3.2 million friendly takeover deal for CTV.

Cope, pointing to CTV’s lucrative TSN channel, said content from the cable sports channel would be distributed to BCE’s wireless phone subscribers, and be made available on commercial terms to rival wireless phone carriers.

As Canadians increasingly view U.S. network series on VOD channels, live sports has turned into an increasingly lucrative revenue stream for domestic cable and phone giants fast snapping up broadcast assets here.

Elsewhere in the industry, western Canadian cable giant Shaw Communications is getting into the wireless phone sector, as has Quebec cable player Quebecor Media. And Shaw recently acquired the former Canwest Global Communications Corp. for $2 billion for video content to drive its own customer offerings.

In addition, Telus Corp. in western Canada is ramping up its own TV offering, and all the Canadian players are gearing up for emerging competition from Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV and Google TV either already in the Canadian market, or coming down the pipeline.

Against that industry backdrop, the CRTC is struggling to ensure shared access of Canadian-produced content across existing and emerging digital platforms.

During one hearing exchange Tuesday on sport content exclusivity, CTV head Ivan Fecan said the broadcaster, which has the rights to the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics as part of a Canadian consortium, is constrained by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in how it can exploit or share those rights.

That led von Finckenstein to advise CTV to push back against the IOC over how the Olympics might be viewed in Canada.

“If we rule the Olympics cannot be viewed exclusively, you need to sit down and tell the IOC that we (CTV) are forced to share that content. I’m not sure a copyright holder can dictate how content is viewed in Canada,” the CRTC topper said.

The BCE/CTV hearings will continue through this week.