Canada TV biz debates entry of U.S. cable channels

Thu Apr 3, 2008 1:25pm EDT
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By Norma Reveler

VANCOUVER (Hollywood Reporter) - Canada's broadcasters will square off with their domestic cable and satellite TV operators next week in a battle that could pave the way for a sea change in the market -- the entry of such U.S. cable channels as HBO, ESPN and Nickelodeon.

The showdown comes as the nation's TV regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), begins three weeks of public hearings Tuesday.

While a number of U.S. channels targeting a narrower segment of the market already are carried by cable operators here, CRTC rules have long denied market access to popular channels that are judged "partially" or "totally competitive" with existing Canadian TV channels.

According to Canadian Association of Broadcasters officials, 97% of the top 200 U.S. programs already are available here because their Canadian TV rights have been acquired by domestic broadcasters.

But next week, Canadian cable and satellite TV services will ask the CRTC to remove all barriers to entry for popular U.S. channels, a move the CAB argues would devastate Canadian TV services "from both a competitive and program supply perspective."

Such a move would have implications for existing program supply agreements between U.S. and Canadian networks.

For example, HBO series including "The Sopranos," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Tell Me You Love Me" already air on Canadian premium pay TV networks the Movie Network and Movie Central. And ESPN provides a raft of original programming to Canadian sports channel the Sports Network, including "Sunday NFL Countdown," "Monday Night Football" and "Pardon the Interruption."

Western Canadian cable giant Shaw Communications has called on the CRTC to adopt an "open-entry approach" to non-Canadian TV channels governed "entirely by market forces and negotiations between services and distributors."   Continued...