On Wednesday morning, TSN2 went live on Videotron’s Illico digital cable feed, on Channel 61 (681 in HD). GOL TV, which formerly occupied No. 61, has moved to 58. Channel 661 (the more logical place for the HD feed) is Rogers SportsNet HD, which will no doubt cause some confusion because SportsNet East SD is 81.
The channel is free for anyone who has access to TSN. Similarly for the HD feed.
TSN2 isn’t quite like any other channel. Its license actually requires it to mostly duplicate content from the main channel with a three-hour delay. And that’s because the license for the network wasn’t designed for the purpose TSN is branding it to become (essentially a Canadian equivalent of ESPN2).
Here’s the deal: TSN is a national network airing mostly live sporting events (hockey, football, curling, all the good stuff). But live game of the major sports leagues are also really finnicky about television rights. Some of them might enforce a blackout on local television coverage if the arena isn’t sold out for a home game. Others have exclusive deals with a local station or network, and so require regional blackouts. Others take their orders from Zorxon the Great and just declare blackouts randomly. So a sports network like TSN (and particularly the Rogers SportsNet regional networks) would be required to black out its programming for certain regions.
To help with this problem, the CRTC allowed TSN to split its network, both timewise – having a west coast feed on a three-hour delay – and to substitute other programming to replace blackouts, like another game. To make sure that TSN didn’t use this privilege to create a second network, they limited the amount of replacement programming to 10% of the schedule, which works out to 2.4 hours a day.
In 2008, TSN decided to rebrand this split network and “launch” what it called TSN2. Now there would be ads about what’s on this new network (that ran on all of CTV’s television properties), and the fact that it’s 90% the same as TSN was downplayed as much as possible. Besides, 2.4 hours means they can do what they want between 8pm and 10pm every day. Important events would air on TSN, but equally important events that happened at the same time would air instead on TSN2, and the network made sure everyone knew about that.
The reaction from the public was predictable. Having been told that their favourite sports programming would air on a network that they didn’t have access to, they followed TSN’s instructions (“For more information about TSN2, viewers are encouraged to contact their television provider“) and began badgering their cable and satellite providers. One by one they folded, and began carrying the second network.
Videotron was one of the holdouts, but it was just a matter of time before they too were forced to add the channel. There was a petition, a Facebook group, and all sorts of rumours about when Videotron would add the channel to its Illico digital cable lineup (Pierre Trudel had it “concrete” that it would launch Sept. 30).
This week the rumours were confirmed by various sources inside Videotron, and the service went live as scheduled. TSN sent out a press release about it, boasting that it’s now in 4.5 million Canadian homes and is the most-watched digital cable sports network.
I’m certainly not opposed to more sports networks. Even the CRTC has admitted it’s time to deregulate them and allow them to compete. Still, I think TSN should just ask for a license for another sports network to air separate programming. Instead, it will eventually go back to the CRTC and say that this arrangement is unworkable, and that it needs more leeway for more alternative programming (no doubt playing it as being better for the consumer) and the CRTC will cave, basically handing TSN the keys to a new specialty sports network.
In the meantime, I won’t say no to the channel. I’m just glad I don’t have to pay extra for it.