CRTC complaint requests Bell, Rogers and Shaw open streaming services to all comers.
Shomi and Crave TV Complaints:
Shomi and Crave TV – the online streaming services recently launched by Rogers and Shaw, and Bell, respectively – are anti-competitive and must be made available to all Canadians, consumer groups are saying in a pair of complaints to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
In order to get Shomi or Crave TV, customers must also subscribe to television or internet services from those companies. That violates several laws and regulations, according to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the Consumers Association of Canada.
“The tied selling of streaming services, designed to favour legacy business models and to discriminate against customers who wish to only view programming through an internet service provider of their choice, is something PIAC-CAC believe cannot be supported in the current rules, nor by Canada’s broadcasting policy objectives”, said Geoffrey White, counsel to PIAC-CAC, in a statement.
The two groups have lodged complaints with the CRTC, requesting that the regulator force the companies to make Shomi and Crave TV available to all Canadians regardless of who their internet or television provider is, or what other services they sign up for.
In both cases, the companies are trying to tie consumers into more expensive TV or internet subscriptions, the groups say. Bell has so far made Crave TV available only to its own television subscribers, as well as those of Telus, Eastlink and Northwestel, while Rogers and Shaw are offering Shomi only to their own existing TV and internet customers.
All three companies have at various times said they intend to either make the streaming services available to other TV and internet service providers, or to all Canadians without additional necessary subscriptions, but there is no evidence of any efforts to that effect, PIAC and CAC say.
In the case of Crave TV:
Allowing Bell to tie access to CraveTV to subscription to a [TV] service unduly prefers those services, and impairs Canadians’ choice of ISP when faced with the prospect of having to purchase Internet services through one affiliated with a CraveTV-distributing [TV] in order to access that streaming content… In light of the increasing price of [TV] services and the clear interest by many Canadians in consuming on-demand streaming service, and having more choice and flexibility, PIAC-CAC contend that there is no compelling reason, in policy, to approve the tied sale of online access to video content with subscription to [TV] services… To do so is to fail to adapt to technological change, and to fail to respond to the evolving demands of the public.
The groups also take issue with how both Shomi and Crave TV deal with internet usage caps. The services can be accessed through TV set-top boxes, in which case they offer unlimited viewing. But both are also offered over the internet through mobile and tablet apps, in which case they do count against monthly internet caps.
The unlimited set-top box is an unfair advantage over other streaming services such as Netflix, which are subject to monthly usage limits, according to the complaints.
If Shomi and Crave TV are to continue to be offered as unlimited add-ons to television packages, then Bell, Rogers and Shaw should have to secure additional broadcast licenses for them the same way they would for new channels, the groups say. That would also mean the services would have to contribute a portion of their revenues toward the creation of Canadian content.
Bell and Rogers did not immediately return requests for comment.
The complaints come just a week after the CRTC ruled that Bell and Videotron were offside in offering discounted streaming of video services to their own wireless customers.
Online streaming services in other countries – notably Australia – are sold without requirements that subscribers also sign onto other television or internet services. In their complaints, the consumer groups say this is a function of tight vertical integration in Canada of broadcasting and telecommunications services, where most TV and internet providers are one and the same.
In announcing the wireless TV decision last week, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais lamented this integration and the lack of choice Canadian consumers face as a result.
“It’s regrettable… that English Canada still lacks a true Canadian internet streaming video-on-demand service that does not require a cable subscription,” he said.
UPDATE: A spokesperson for Bell says the following: “It’s unfortunate that PIAC and CAC are complaining about Canadian creativity and investment with an innovative product that is offered at a very competitive price. Crave TV is pro-consumer in that it provides a superior collection of premium TV programming for just $4 a month.”
“Crave TV was designed to strengthen the Canadian broadcasting system by offering a complementary, value-added service. It’s a service that has been made available to all Canadian distributors, with five on board already and four more to launch next week. Our objective is to make Crave TV available to as many Canadian TV subscribers as possible.”
UPDATE 2: A Rogers spokesperson replied with this: “We are currently in beta for Rogers and Shaw internet and cable customers and are in discussions with other [TV providers] to carry the service. We are focused on delivering innovative services and world-class content, and as we stated at launch, during the beta phase we are evaluating various distribution models.”