The NFL has called interference on the CRTC for meddling into its mobile content licensing agreement.
As I wrote in December, the CRTC told Bell that it was anti-competitive for Bell to have exclusive agreements for carrying prime time NFL games, the Pro Bowl game, all playoff games (including the Super Bowl), NFL Network programming, NHL games and video highlights. The CRTC chair said “Canadians shouldn’t be forced to subscribe to a wireless service from a specific company to access their favourite content. Healthy and fair competition between service providers will promote greater choice for Canadians.”
The CRTC ordered Bell to report back by the end of January on how it planned to ensure that TELUS had access to the content at reasonable terms. Late today, Bell filed its report saying there are no steps that can be taken to ensure third party access to the the NFL programming because Bell lacks the necessary rights to license or sub-license the content; the right to amend the agreement with the NFL; and the right to terminate the agreement.
Bell included an abridged copy of a letter from the NFL, confirming these points and indicating that there are still an undisclosed number of seasons remaining under the current deal.
As you know, NFLI engaged in a competitive bidding process for its mobility rights in Canada that included several wireless providers in the market. We offered a package of rights focused on exclusive content for live games along with a variety of non-exclusive rights. It was our belief that this model, which is one we have used often in countries throughout the world, in the best model for offering this set of rights in Canada. Bell was the winning bidder for these rights, and we continue to believe in the desirability of this model. Therefore, at this time, NFLI has no interest in amending the Mobility Agreement. NFLI fully expects Bell to honor its obligations under the Mobility Agreement throughout the full remainder of the term.
The CRTC doesn’t regulate the NFL, but it could theoretically order Bell to stop carrying the content. As satisfying as it may be for the regulator to show its power, it is hard to see how that kind of action could possibly be in the public interest.
Let’s have a little perspective here. Bell doesn’t have an exclusive for access to voice calling or emergency services. It is football – American football at that.
I continue to believe that healthy competition doesn’t mean all service providers should have all the same services, any more than all service providers should all carry the same devices. If one service provider has really hot content, then other service providers will have to respond with another compelling offer.
If a customer really wants mobile access to the NFL, then their current service provider is going to have to work that much harder to keep their voice and data business.
That is competition in the public interest.