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COMMENTARY: Way is now clear for Fox News
by Greg O'Brien

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CRTC/Regulatory - TV
YESTERDAY, THE CRTC approved the addition of MSNBC and Bloomberg Television to the eligible satellite list. While that's good news for Canadian fans of those channels, it also appears to be great news for the proponents of Fox News in Canada.

Rogers and Shaw have owned MSNBC Canada (with Rogers operating it) since its launch in the fall of 2001. A category two digi-net, it carried most of the U.S. channel's best programming, with some mediocre Canadian shows added to satisfy its conditions of license.

Subscribers disliked the Canadian programming and often asked carriers for the full U.S. channel instead. Rogers and Shaw both contended that it was becoming too expensive to produce and insert Canadian programming and warned if the Commission didn't endorse the addition of MSNBC to the list of foreign-approved services, they would close their Canadian version anyway.

Whatever your opinion on how expensive it was to keep MSNBC Canada going and whether or not Rogers and Shaw could have continued on with it (a large missing piece of the puzzle, too, was the fact MSNBC Canada was not on Bell ExpressVu) subscribers to the channel did often gripe about the American programming that was pre-empted in place of the required Cancon.

Bloomberg Television, a channel license place-holder which Shaw has held since the digital licenses were doled out in 2000, never launched.

However, yesterday's ruling set aside concerns voiced by Canadian broadcasters about how these channels may compete with existing Canadian ones (thus violating the CRTC's long-standing genre-protection policy). While some of the programming from both U.S. services is competitive (ROBTv even carries two hours each morning of pure BloombergTV), "the Commission is satisfied that this, in itself, does not constitute a degree of overlap in the programming of the two services that would render the Bloomberg service totally or partially competitive with ROBTv," reads the decision.

In MSNBC Canada's case, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters cautioned the Commission against setting a precedent where the "approval of the requests would create undesirable precedents. Specifically, (opponents of these moves) suggested that their approval might encourage parties to launch Category 2 hybrid services in partnership with non-Canadian services, only to cease their operation, then point to the demand their services had created for the programming as justification for the addition of the non-Canadian services to the digital lists," reads the Commission decision.

These are keys for the Fox News application. The CAB has objected to that channel's addition to the foreign-approved list on the same grounds: that the news would compete and that Fox News already had a Canadian deal. Originally, Fox News and CanWest Global had an agreement to create and launch Fox News Canada, but Fox walked away from that proposed partnership in favor of being added, as-is.

And, since the Commission has now set aside these objections in the cases of MSNBC and Bloomberg, there appears nothing to stand in the way of Fox News' approval.

And, it would be nice to see it added well in advance of the American presidential election, by the way.
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