One of Rogers’s attempts to use its $5.2-billion NHL rights purchase to drive subscriptions to its telecom services has prompted competitor Bell to file a complaint with the CRTC.
The complaint is about GamePlus, a feature of the new Rogers NHL GameCentre Live online streaming app. While GameCentre Live is available to anyone for purchase (though free for Rogers customers until the end of the year), GamePlus is exclusive to Rogers Internet, TV, home phone and wireless subscribers. It offers additional camera angles like the ref cam (a camera mounted on a referee’s helmet), sky cam (a wide-view camera that goes up and down the length of the ice at the Air Canada Centre) and star cam (a camera always focused on an individual player).
From Bell’s submission:
GamePlus is being offered on an otherwise preferential basis to Rogers’ mobile and retail Internet access subscribers. This gives an advantage to Rogers’ own wireless and Internet distribution businesses. That is precisely why Rogers is doing it.
Consumers who are not Rogers customers will be harmed as a result of being blocked from accessing this content.
Bell argues that this service goes contrary to the CRTC’s New Media Exemption Order, a policy that says the commission will not regulate content broadcast strictly online, provided that companies not do things such as “offer television programming on an exclusive or otherwise preferential basis in a manner that is dependent on the subscription to a specific mobile or retail Internet access service.”
The trick here, and where Rogers will likely make its argument, is that GamePlus is not, strictly speaking, television content. Feeds of these new camera angles aren’t available on regular TV. But Bell argues that GamePlus is “inextricably linked to the linear television offerings on CityTV, Sportsnet, CBC, and NHL Centre Ice.” It also warns that allowing Rogers to get away with this would create “a significant loophole in the Commission’s rule”.
UPDATE: Indeed, Rogers is arguing that the content should be exempt from the rules, telling the Globe and Mail:
Clearly this programming is not designed for conventional TV. Conventional TV broadcasts the exact same program to a mass audience who all see the same content, presented the same way. With GamePlus, each fan has a unique experience. … We wouldn’t have developed [the features] solely for broadcast use.
There was also a rather snarky retort to the complaint, saying “it’s a shame that [BCE-owned] Bell is trying to stop innovation in hockey. This may be one of the reasons they failed to secure the rights in the first place.”
Bell is asking that the CRTC require GamePlus be made free to all GameCentre Live subscribers.
It is, of course, ironic that this complaint comes from Bell. Bell offers content from 24CH, the Canadiens documentary series, exclusively to its TV customers. This includes an exclusive 24-hour premiere window for each episode, “a commercial-free director’s cut, including exclusive extra footage”, and the series 24CH The Quiz, available exclusively on its Bell Local community TV service, which is available exclusively to Bell TV customers.
Bell asked that the CRTC deal with this on an expedited basis, but the commission is giving the full month for people to respond. You can download the application here, and file comments for the public record here until 8pm ET on Nov. 20.