No Mystery: USA Network barred from Canadian TV

CRTC cites crime drama overlap

Canada's TV regulator on Thursday said no to NBC Universal's bid to make its USA Network cable channel available here.

While the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission conceded that virtually all of USA's shows, including "Monk" and "The 4400," already air in Canada, it concluded that most Canadian broadcasters with domestic rights to those would not be disadvantaged by allowing the cable channel into the country.

At the same time, however, the CRTC found that sufficient duplication of crime dramas on USA Network and Canada's Mystery TV channel provided grounds to bar the door to the channel's entry.

The CRTC cited crime and mystery dramas airing on USA Network, particularly reruns of "Law & Order: SVU" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," and the medical drama "House," which also air on Mystery TV, owned and operated by CanWest MediaWorks and Groupe TVA.

"In light of the above, the commission is of the view that there is sufficient overlap between USA Network and Mystery TV with respect to program genres in general, and programming in the crime drama category in particular, for it to conclude that USA Network would be competitive with Mystery TV," the CRTC said in its ruling. "Accordingly, the commission denies the request to add USA Network to the lists of eligible satellite services for distribution on a digital basis."

Canada's TV watchdog has traditionally weighed applications by U.S. TV services wishing to enter the market on the basis of whether they will unduly compete with existing domestic channels.

Canadian cabler Shaw Communications initially went to bat for USA Network before the CRTC, arguing in its original application that the general-interest channel would not compete with existing Canadian services.

Rival domestic distributors like cable giant Rogers Communications and satellite TV operator Bell ExpressVu LLP concurred, saying they would welcome USA Network on their schedules to encourage programming choice for subscribers.

But the CRTC fielded extensive opposition to the application, particularly from domestic broadcasters and distributors that already hold the Canadian rights to USA Network series airing here.

"Parties … considered that the programming on USA Network would largely duplicate programming that is already available to Canadians via licensed Canadian programming services," the regulator said in its decision.

The CRTC added that Canadian broadcasters expressed fears that allowing USA Network into the market "could lead to audience erosion and audience fatigue due to multiple plays of certain hit programs."

The Canadian TV regulator in recent years has shown wide latitude when authorizing U.S. channels for carriage here. U.S. cable channels like Fox News and a rebranded Spike TV have been allowed onto the Canadian airwaves, despite opposition from Canadian broadcasters.

And in the case of USA Network, the CRTC said it dismissed most concerns from Canadian sports channels, pay TV channels and others. But, in the end, all it took was Mystery TV.