OneSoccer alleges that Rogers acted anti-competitively by refusing to move the cable service

Oscar Lopez, CEO of Mediapro Canada, at the broadcast held at OneSoccer Studios in Mississauga, Ontario. On November 10, 2021.JP MOCZULSKI / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

OneSoccer, the innovative Canadian broadcasting service that broadcasts the men’s national soccer team’s triumphant march to the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, has complained to the federal broadcasting regulator that Rogers Communications Inc. It engages in anti-competitive behavior by refusing to carry the channel on its cable. The lineup as it rivals Rogers’ Sportsnet service.

In a filing with Radio and Television Canada Communications known as an “unjustified preference application,” OneSoccer alleges that Rogers is working to prevent the football service from achieving “financial stability, which the transfer on Rogers Cable will provide.”

The application indicates that the proposed merger of Rogers with Shaw Communications Inc. , which won conditional approval from the CRTC in March, will only make matters worse for freelancers like OneSoccer trying to compete with services owned by the expanding company.

Launched in 2019 as an over-the-air (OTT) service, OneSoccer is an online direct-to-consumer offering designed to bypass traditional gatekeepers like cable companies.

But while global OTTs like Netflix have revolutionized the TV industry, allowing viewers to free themselves from the unwieldy cable bundle and enable them to pick and choose only the services they want, the OneSoccer vs. Rogers struggle highlights a little-discussed dynamic. This evolving ecosystem: Even as businesses and consumers are interested in live broadcasting, a large percentage of home viewing is still watched live, with millions of people watching TV shows delivered through the tubes of old (if high-tech) cable distribution systems.

OneSoccer argues that it needs to reach millions of Rogers customers if it is to be financially viable.

“We are in the midst of a transition between legacy cable platforms to new content aggregators, through OTTs,” Oscar Lopez, CEO of Mediapro Canada, which owns OneSoccer, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “We have audiences on all platforms. So we want to be present on all screens and platforms possible.”

“Part of the audience wants to see content on a traditional platform,” he explained. “They want to put a file [number] In the remote control and want to see a 24-hour linear channel. They don’t want to have, you know, 10, 15 platforms. “

The filing notes that sports “is the largest source of revenue among Canadian discretionary broadcasting services” – Sportsnet generated more than $3.3 billion in revenue from 2016 to 2020 and Bell Media subsidiary TSN generated more than $2.3 billion over the same period. But the sector, is “dominated by two players,” both of which are part of much larger companies with strong cable and internet television operations.

“There are very few independent sports broadcasters in Canada. The last significant independent sports broadcaster in Canada was The Score, which was acquired by Sportsnet in 2013.”

OneSoccer made the transfer case with Rogers by partnering with the company’s media division, sharing broadcasts of Canada’s men’s World Cup qualifying matches with Sportsnet last fall and spring, which the recording says was “to show the public’s demand for Canadian football.” The radio shows drew an average of more than 1 million viewers, with the decider match in March drawing an average of 1.6 million viewers.

“This viewership is on par with – or greater than – other sports properties, such as Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Raptors or National NHL broadcasts,” says the OneSoccer file.

If Rogers Cable were a stand-alone [cable company]You may want to offer highly desirable Canadian content to its customers. However, it is part of a vertically integrated company and other divisions will be interested in OneSoccer’s emergence as a viable broadcaster.”

The channel owns the lion’s share of Canadian football broadcasting rights, including all women’s and men’s national team matches outside of the FIFA World Cup, Canadian Premier League, Canadian Championship, CONCACAF Gold Cup, CONCACAF W Championship, semi-professional. League 1 Canada and other programming.

OneSoccer says Rogers has offered to add the service to Ignite’s online service as an app, but that’s not like the useful terminology Rogers gives Sportsnet, as it bundles the channel with other sports programming on its main cable line.

Telus’ Optik service is the only major TV platform OneSoccer currently carries. The channel says it is currently in transfer negotiations with Bell. If those talks fail, it intends to file a similar complaint with the CRTC.

But Rogers’ growing influence, with his pending acquisition of Shaw, is of particular concern to OneSoccer. “Rogers’ ability to reduce the effectiveness of competitors in its sports broadcast has been amplified by its proposed purchase of Shaw,” the filing says.

After the merger is complete, the filing says, Rogers will have 47 percent of all English-speaking cable subscribers in Canada, and its network will pass 80 percent of homes in English Canada. “With so many English language cable TV customers, Rogers Cable’s refusal to carry a competing sports service will make it very difficult for that service to become financially viable.”

In response to a request for comment by The Globe on Tuesday, a Rogers spokesperson said the company had not yet seen the file. On Wednesday, the Human Rights Commission of Canada told The Globe that “in accordance with our usual practices and procedures, Rogers was indeed transcribed in the application when it was submitted to us.” In pursuing an email exchange with The Globe, the company declined to comment at this time.

The CRTC doesn’t have the power to force Rogers to carry the OneSoccer game, but it could fine the company. It can also bring the parties together in mediation negotiations.

Mr. Lopez argued that Rogers was unlikely to be concerned about a customer revolt over OneSoccer’s price. The service sells directly to the consumer for $10 a month, but Mr. Lopez said he expects the total cost if added to a Rogers customer’s bill to be less than $12 a year.

However, the low subscription revenue per user might be worth the trade-off with OneSoccer if it were to achieve wide distribution in millions of homes, by increasing the prices it could charge advertisers. It will also enable Canadian teams and leagues whose games are broadcast on the channel to charge more for sponsorship.

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