A ruling over exclusive mobile programming rights underscores some of the hurdles that must be faced by the telco partnership that wants to buy Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) says that Bell Mobility gave itself a significant competitive advantage by entering into exclusive agreements for the mobile rights to popular National Hockey League (NHL) and National Football League (NFL) content.
Bell and Rogers announced last week they intend to purchase controlling interest in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, noting at the time that online and mobile media rights opportunities were a big reason for the acquisition.
Content exclusivity may be seen as a market differentiator by some; it is the antithesis of market fairness and balanced competition, say others.
"Canadians shouldn't be forced to subscribe to a wireless service from a specific company to access their favourite content," said Konrad von Finckenstein, Q.C., Chairman of the CRTC. "Healthy and fair competition between service providers will promote greater choice for Canadians."
The CRTC decision was triggered by a complaint filed by Telus Communications, after it had unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate for the rights owned exclusively by Bell Mobility. The NHL content in question includes games and video highlights, while the NFL content includes prime-time games, all playoff games (including the Super Bowl) and access to NFL Network programming.
Telus has signed deals for its own exclusive mobile content offerings, notably with the CFL.
Bell Mobility must file a report within 30 days explaining how it will ensure that Telus has access to its NHL and NFL content at reasonable terms.
The CRTC has said any program broadcast on television, including sports and other live events, must be made available to competitors under fair and reasonable terms.
The larger media companies must share programming content with rivals under fair and market-based terms, the CRTC guidelines suggest, and they cannot restrict distribution only to their own wireless and Internet subscribers. Companies can negotiate content distribution terms, but they cannot deny service while negotiations are taking place.
The new framework does allow integrated media companies to continue to offer exclusive programming to their Internet or mobile customers if it's produced specifically for the Internet or a mobile device.