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There's not enough evidence to conclude that the U.S. specialty channel Spike TV competes with any Canadian services and therefore it should remain available to domestic cable and satellite viewers, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled Thursday.

The decision was prompted by formal complaints lodged last year, mainly by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters on behalf of Global TV. The CAB argued that Spike - the U.S. channel devoted to men's lifestyle issues - provided unfair competition to a variety of domestic channels, most notably Global's new diginet, Men TV.

In its original format, The Nashville Network - and later the National Network - the American service had been authorized for carriage in Canada for some 20 years. But in 2003, TNN was re-branded by its new owner as Spike and, the CAB alleged, its Canadian eligibility should have been reviewed.

In its ruling, the CRTC responded by announcing it would merely amend its list of approved imported services to identify Spike in its new incarnation.

The Commission said that out of 219 comments submitted, 184 opposed the CAB position. And in what may be a bit of uncharacteristic whimsy, the CRTC notice added that three submissions argued that Spike should not be available "because its programming was not appealing."

This is the channel that carried Stripperella, Pamela Anderson's animated series about a stripper by night who turns into a masked crime fighter even later at night.

The CRTC saw a difference between Spike (which focuses on middle-class American men) and Men TV (men's lifestyle programming from an urbane, sophisticated or cultured Canadian men's perspective).

The Canadian Cable Telecommunications Association had argued that to remove Spike from the list of foreign signals that can legally be carried in this country would be anti-consumer.

"The fact that this application was filed suggests a growing indifference to consumer choice in the system," said CCTA president Michael Hennessy at the time. Bill Hunt, the Global chief of specialty services, countered by insisting CanWest is not afraid of competition.

"But where there's competition, there needs to be a level playing field, and we don't have a level playing field in these circumstances."

Under the complicated rules of carriage, Canadian specialty services are supposed to be protected from unfair competition from a similarly themed imported signal. In the U.S., that 2003 re-branding of Spike also brought a formal complaint from filmmaker Spike Lee who saw the moniker as an infringement on his own identity. The issue was finally settled with Viacom, which owns the channel as part of its suite of MTV networks.

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