December 12, 2011 / 4:58 PM / 7 years ago

Regulator says BCE must share mobile-phone sports

TORONTO (Reuters) - BCE Inc, Canada’s largest telecom company and owner of its biggest private broadcaster, must make its sports content, including the Super Bowl telecast, available to rivals for distribution over mobile devices, a regulator said on Monday.

Telecom and cable companies in Canada have been buying up television and other entertainment companies as they move aggressively to offer customers sports, movies, TV shows and news on an growing array of devices, including home computers, smartphones and tablet computers such as Apple’s iPad.

Canada’s media regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), however, cast doubt on that strategy on Monday when it confirmed a ruling it made in September and said that sports content offered by a broadcaster must be accessible on all mobile devices, regardless of provider.

“Canadians shouldn’t be forced to subscribe to a wireless service from a specific company to access their favorite content,” the head of the CRTC, Konrad von Finckenstein, said in a statement.

The ruling is a victory for one of BCE’s biggest competitors, Telus Corp, which has avoided the rush to own sources of content, a trend known as vertical integration.

“They (the CRTC) have reinforced their vertical integration safeguards and sent a strong signal that exclusivity in distribution is a bad thing in terms of healthy and viable competition,” Michael Hennessy, Telus’s head of regulatory affairs, told Reuters.

But BCE, whose TV companies have struck deals with the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Football League (NFL) to broadcast their games in Canada, said it will be unable to comply with the CRTC ruling.

“(BCE) does not control how the major leagues sell their rights in Canada. We do not have the right to sub-license or re-sell this content,” it said in an emailed statement.

“The CRTC is imposing itself directly in how independent, and in this case, international content owners sell their content rights in Canada.”

Telus filed a complaint to the CRTC in January after it was blocked from negotiating with BCE wireless unit Bell Mobility to obtain sports broadcasts controlled by BCE, including the Super Bowl and other NFL games.

Telus said BCE’s exclusive mobile distribution of sports unduly favored it and breached a 2009 regulatory decision that prohibited undue preference for mobile television.

In September, the CRTC tightened the rules governing content delivered via the Internet or to mobile devices, blocking the use of most exclusive content.

BCE bought the CTV television network, which owns sports channel TSN, last year.

BCE and cable rival Rogers Communications announced a deal last Friday to buy a shared 75 percent stake in the company that owns the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the National Basketball Association’s Toronto Raptors.

BCE shares were up 1.1 percent at C$41.19 early on Monday afternoon, while Telus dipped 0.6 percent to C$55.00.

($1=$1.03 Canadian)

Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Galloway

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