POLITICS
09/21/2011 05:13 EDT | Updated 11/21/2011 05:12 EST

CRTC Sets Rules On Exclusive Mobile Video Deals

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Companies such as Bell can't offer streamed hockey games or TV shows exclusively to their own mobile and internet customers — such content must also be available to competitors "under fair and reasonable terms," the CRTC has ruled.

"Canadians shouldn't be forced to buy a mobile device from a specific company or subscribe to its internet service simply to access their favourite television programs," said CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein in a statement Wednesday.

The statement accompanied the release of new rules for large companies that own both programming and distribution arms — a phenomenon known as vertical integration. It is becoming more and more common as cable companies such as Shaw Communications merge with media companies such as Canwest Global Communications Corp. The Shaw-Canwest merger was recently approved by both the courts and by the CRTC.

"Given the size of the Canadian market, there are benefits to integrating television programming and distribution services under the same corporate umbrella,” said von Finckenstein. “At the same time, we felt that some safeguards were needed to prevent anti-competitive behaviour."

For example, a company with a media branch that owns the rights to broadcast a certain TV show could make that show available as mobile video to subscribers with its wireless branch. It might refuse to sell similar rights to other wireless companies at a reasonable price.

The new rules do allow companies to offer exclusive programming to their internet or mobile customers if that content was produced specifically for the internet or a mobile device, such as behind-the scenes video clips.

The CRTC has also proposed a code of conduct to "prevent anti-competitive behaviour" among companies negotiating for rights to certain content. The code bans certain practices, such as charging an "unreasonable rate," requiring the buyer to have minimum revenue or market penetration levels, or requiring the buyer to buy other programs in order to get the content that they want.

Measures intended to make sure independent distributors and broadcasters are treated fairly by big, integrated companies were also included. For example, at least 25 per cent of specialty services distributed by large integrated companies must be owned by an independent broadcaster.

The CRTC also asked Bell Canada, Quebecor Media, Rogers Communications and Shaw Communications to give Canadians more flexibility to pick the channels they want in their cable and satellite packages. The companies must report by April 1, 2012, what they have done to "respond to consumer demands."

"If the industry fails to demonstrate that it has made significant strides in introducing consumer-friendly options, we will hold hearings on this issue in six months and take regulatory action," von Finckenstein said.