Rogers Communications Inc. plans to offer 1,000 games from the 2014-2015 National Hockey League regular-season, as well as the playoffs, on an online streaming platform. The company said Wednesday it would offer free live streaming of games on its NHL GameCentre Live to its own wireless and broadband Internet customers until the end of the year.
The announcement reveals more detail about how the Toronto company will put its investment in hockey rights to work. Last November, Rogers landed the national NHL rights for 12 years in a $5.2-billion deal it promised would help complement other areas of its business.
Streaming games will count against users' monthly data caps, Rogers Media President Keith Pelley said during a press conference in Toronto.
Customers of other cellular and Internet providers will be able to subscribe to the package for $199.99 for the season; a discount to $179.99 will be available until Oct. 13.
A French-only package including 60 Montreal Canadiens games and 54 Ottawa Senator games will be available for $59.99.
Half-season passes that begin in January will be $129.99 for both Rogers and non-Rogers subscribers.
The service will include live streams of national games including Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays.
As part of the announcement, Rogers also promised it would lift more "blackouts" of in-region games, which previously meant, for example, that fans in Vancouver couldn't watch Canucks games on the streaming service.
The catch is that those fans must still be television customers and can't rely solely on an online subscription.
The company said fans who subscribe to the Rogers Sportsnet specialty channel – no matter which television provider they use – will be able to authenticate their subscriber status and stream their local team's regional games.
Rogers does not own all the rights to regional games, however, with many still belonging to BCE Inc. owned Bell Media.
Bell owns rights to the Winnipeg Jets' and Ottawa Senators' in-market games and some of the regional rights for the Toronto Maple Leafs. (BCE also owns 15 per cent of The Globe and Mail.)
So, for instance, Toronto fans will get access to 16 in-market games online while Vancouver viewers will be able to stream 48 regional games on Rogers' online platform. Winnipeg and Ottawa fans will not be able to watch any of their local team's in-market games on GameCentre Live.
Mr. Pelley said in an interview that the company decided to require authentication through a television subscription for local games to protect its relationship with the TV distributors it sells its Sportsnet channel to.
He said it's possible that could change at some point: "The industry changes on a weekly basis."
Rogers recently changed the way it bills for another mobile product, its AnyplaceTV app that allows users to stream live and on-demand television programming on their smartphones and tablets.
Rogers previously charged $5 a month for the app and allowed users to watch up to 10 hours of TV with no impact on their monthly wireless data cap.
It now offers the app for free and any incremental data use counts against users' data caps.
The CRTC is hearing an application that claims that the Rogers app and similar apps from Bell Mobility and Quebecor Inc.'s Videotron run afoul of net neutrality by treating their own TV content differently than other content such as Netflix.
Mr. Pelley said he has no concerns that the pricing of GameCentre Live would raise similar issues.
"We're very comfortable from a regulatory perspective," he said, adding that he sees it as an over-the-top or OTT product and noting, "It's available to all Canadians."