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Quebecor must supply on-demand content to rivals

Robert J. Galbraith/robert. j. galbraith The Globe and Mail

In the new television landscape, media companies like to boast about making their shows available to viewers anywhere, at any time. But from now on in Canada, they'll also have to give video-on-demand to their competitors.

Quebecor Inc. has been using the content it owns to beef up its cable service and give itself an unfair advantage against competing TV providers, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled on Wednesday.

Quebecor's offers a video-on-demand service for its Illico cable customers, both through their television packages and online for those with a subscriber password. In June, Bell Canada and Telus Corp. complained to the CRTC that Quebecor's Vidéotron division, which provides the cable service, had been refusing to grant them the digital rights needed to put content from the TVA network - which Quebecor also owns - on their own on-demand services.

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The companies argued such exclusivity limited their ability to attract new subscribers, especially in Quebec where TVA is the most popular network, and where their television services compete with Illico cable.

"It's harmful, on an evolving platform like video-on-demand, and it clearly limits competition," said Telus's senior vice-president for government and regulatory affairs, Michael Hennessy.

According to Bell, it had been attempting to negotiate on-demand rights with Vidéotron for the past three years, without success.

"We've been saying that the rules are rather clear, and this wasn't content Quebecor … could deny to Bell TV," said Bell's senior vice-president for regulatory affairs, Mirko Bibic. "It shows that the CRTC's got a good set of rules in place, and the rules work."

Quebecor must now put its TVA shows on its competitors' video-on-demand immediately, and must negotiate terms for those digital rights by Feb. 25. The company declined to comment on the decision Wednesday.

"Given the emerging role of VOD in the [TV distribution]business model and the popularity of TVA's programming in Quebec, it would be difficult for a new [cable, satellite or Internet protocol TV provider]seeking to penetrate the Quebec market to attract subscribers if it cannot offer TVA programs on its VOD service," the CRTC wrote in its decision.

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