Non-Exclusivity Agreements for Canadian Mobile Video Content Urged

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Rogers Communications tells the CRTC that Canadian sport fans should not have to own multiple smartphones to view NHL, NFL and Major League Baseball action because those rights are potentially held by separate wireless phone providers.

TORONTO -- Canadian cable and telelcom giants are back fighting over a familiar prize: exclusive premium TV sport rights.

As the CRTC, the country’s broadcast regulator, on Monday opened public hearings into an increasingly vertically-integrated Canadian TV industry, mobile and cable giant Rogers Communications called for a ban on deals that carve out exclusivity for mobile video of TV sporting events for wireless phone providers.

Unlike the U.S. and UK markets, Canadian content carriers cannot clinch 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.

But Rogers Communications vice chairman Phil Lind told the CRTC Monday that mobile and tablet rights to TV sport properties are still sold separate from broadcast rights.

And that opens the way to market abuses, Lind added, where Rogers could grab mobile rights to Major League Baseball games as it owns the Toronto Blue Jays, rival Bell Media could secure the NHL mobile rights it holds through its TSN sport channel, and Shaw Communications could dominate NFL mobile rights.

"Sports fans would be forced to buy three iPhones or three iPads and subscribe to three distributors to ensure they could catch all the action when and where they wanted," Rogers execs told the CRTC.

That potential market abuse comes as major vertically-integrated players like Rogers, BCE, Quebecor Media and Shaw Communications recognize the increasing value of TV sports programming for selling mobile phone packages.

The solution, Rogers told the CRTC, was to ensure all TV content airing in Canada, and distributed on a online or mobile platform, should be made available to rival carriers on the same ancillary platforms.

“That rule should apply to all television content. The mobile and ancillary rights should be available to all distributors,” Ken Engelhart, senior vp of regulatory affairs, told the regulatory hearing.

The CRTC’s current competition investigation in Canada has been prompted by a recent round of industry consolidation that saw Shaw Communications buy the former CanWest Global Communications Corp. TV assets to form Shaw Media and BCE buy the CTV network and a string of cable channels to form Bell Media.

Rivals Rogers and Quebecor already own major broadcast assets of their own.

The Canadian regulator is looking through its current hearings to strike a balance between non-exclusivity for all major TV content and exclusive agreements for video made for ancillary platforms to ensure digital innovation.