The long truce between the country's two biggest cable companies is clearly over, as industry chatter has Rogers Communications taking the offensive against Western Canadian rival Shaw Communications.
One rumour making the rounds in cable circles has Rogers and Halifax-based Bragg Communications negotiating a swap of regional cable operations, with Rogers expanding into the Vancouver area and Alberta, while giving up networks in Newfoundland. These talks were first reported last week on a web site called Cartt.ca.
Now, sources close to Rogers say there's absolutely no truth to rumours of an asset swap. However, there's no denying the relationship has soured between the country's two largest cable companies.
The mood went from friendly to frosty this summer, when Shaw dropped an estimated $300-million to purchase a Hamilton company called Mountain Cablevision. That purchase got regulatory approval last week.
The Shaw acquisition broke an understanding that dated back to 2000, when Rogers founder Ted Rogers and his son Edward Rogers broke bread with Shaw CEO Jim Shaw at four-star Toronto restaurant Scaramouche. By the end of that dinner, Rogers and Shaw cut the country in two: Rogers focused on Eastern Canada, and Shaw got the West. As part of that deal, the companies swapped $4-billion of assets.
Rogers took its rival to court over the Mountain Cablevision purchase, arguing that the agreement struck at Scaramouche precluded the acquisition, but lost.
In establishing a toehold in Hamilton, Shaw added a new competitor in a province dominated by Rogers, but also featuring Cogeco Cable as a significant regional presence.
And that brings us to another delicious rumour making the rounds in cable: Rogers has long coveted Cogeco Cable, and has a substantial minority stake in the Montreal-based company. There is talk that Rogers recently made overtures to Cogeco Cable, but no sense that the Audet family, which controls the company through a dual share structure, has any interest in selling.
The specifics of the Rogers - Bragg swap, as reported by Cartt, have Rogers taking over Bragg-owned Delta Cable and Coast Cable systems in southern B.C. In exchange, Bragg would get the Rogers systems in St. John's, Corner Brook and Gander, Nfld. Other sources report sighting of Rogers brass in Halifax, and a rare visit to the Vancouver operation by John Bragg.