In September, the CRTC passed a law making it illegal for any media corporation to unduly hold exclusive rights to media content such as sports programming. This was in response to a complaint filed in January 2011 by TELUS claiming Bell Mobility had prevented it from obtaining rights to NFL and NHL content.
Today, the CRTC has followed through with that law called the New Media Exemption Order, stating that Bell did indeed have a significant competitive advantage. Part of the original complaint stated that “according to TELUS, the exclusive distribution on a mobile platform of selected NHL and NFL content by Bell represents an undue preference for Bell and subjects TELUS’ mobile service to an undue disadvantage contrary to Broadcasting Order 2009-660 (the New Media Exemption Order).”
TELUS is concerned that by being unable to offer the same sports broadcasts as its competitors it is being left out of one of the main driving forces of smartphone adoption. Bell offers its TV & Radio app on every new Android phone and tablet, along with its fleet of BlackBerry devices, and a similar app is available from the iOS App Store.
The complaint was originally filed in January after TELUS attempted to negotiate with each league on broadcast rights only to be told that Bell held exclusive access to that mobile content. Bell is countering by saying that its own access is limited to only a small portion of the available NHL and NFL games, and ultimately league executives control which mobile carriers get content.
The ruling comes only days after Bell and Rogers together bought a majority share in MLSE, owners of the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs. During that press conference Bell CEO George Cope and Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed stated that though they are looking to leverage the content to drive users to their own mobile networks, they are looking to license the broadcasts to competitors to maximize revenue.
According to the CRTC report, “Bell [is] to file a report with the Commission, by 30 January 2012, outlining the steps it will take to ensure TELUS access to the programming at issue at reasonable terms and to provide a copy of this report to TELUS.”
This will get very interesting, especially as the term “vertical integration” becomes a talking point in 2012. Bell and Rogers, along with big media companies like Shaw and Quebecor, are expanding control not only of the networks we use but the content that is streamed over them. With this ruling disallowing Bell exclusive and anti-competitive access to sports broadcasts, the CRTC is ostensibly preventing a sour precedent from being set in the Canadian telecom space.