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john doyle: television

As of Monday this week, the Lifetime channel is available in Canada as a free preview through multiple cable services. That's nice. The shortage of channels and shows aimed at women was a national disgrace and Shaw Media is surely to be commended for stepping up, delivering Lifetime to Canada, and dealing with a glaring absence.

I'm sure that when I get around to watching it, I'll be chuffed that Canadian viewers can at last watch Dance Moms: Miami on Lifetime. Not to mention my curiosity about The Client List, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt armed with a bosom that, in the publicity photos, appears to be the size of the Iberian peninsula.

There's so much TV, it's just great. And then it isn't. Channels and shows for everyone and every taste and interest. Don't get me started.

Speaking of the Iberian peninsula, there's a big soccer game on today. Real Madrid vs. Barcelona (GOLTV Canada, 4:30 p.m.).

The game, an annual two-leg affair, is contested by the winners of La Liga, the Spanish soccer league, and the winner of the Copa del Rey, Spanish soccer's knockout competition. It should be a delicious match, Barcelona having won the first leg narrowly, 3-2, last week.

Any meeting between Real and Barcelona is known as El Clásico. This is a very big deal and not just in Spain. Around the world, El Clásico is an occasion to savour. Such is the long history of rivalry and bitterness between the two clubs, a history ripe with regional, social and political subplots, that the whole world watches. Besides, it features the two best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo of Madrid and Lionel Messi of Barcelona. I'm a Messi man, myself.

Here in Toronna, in the centre of the universe, El Clásico certainly matters. The Real/Barca games happen a few times a year, and if you want to watch it in certain bars or restaurants, you reserve a seat weeks in advance. A couple of years ago I booked a table at The Football Factory for the game, which unfolded on a Monday afternoon. Barcelona won 5-0 and the place was packed, heaving with excitement as Barca played with a sort of fluidity that was magical. Long before it ended there were dozens of people on the street outside, peering in through the windows, attracted by the excitement inside.

That was then, this is now. It could be a very long time before we see another El Clásico on TV in Canada. The rights to La Liga games in both the U.S. and Canada have been acquired by a new outfit, beIN SPORT USA, an offshoot of the Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera. It's not available in Canada and is only available on a handful of satellites services in the U.S.

This is mad. There are multiple sports services in Canada and not one is able to air the best soccer league in the world, home of two of the most famous teams in the world and home of the World Cup and Euro champions. No cable service is offering beIN SPORT and the rights have not been sublet to any broadcaster here. The new outfit also bought up the rights to the Italian top league, Serie A, and the top league in France, Ligue 1. Hereabouts, you can find some of the Italian league games on RAI International, an expensive Italian-language channel, so far up the dial that you get a nosebleed going there. Some games from France are on TV5, which is also, way, way up there. But no La Liga

This is personal. My weekend sanity depends heavily on Spanish soccer. If I don't have it, melancholy will ensue. Oh sure, there's plenty of soccer on TV but I am not addicted to the English game and if the Sportsnet (owned by Rogers) schedule is any indication, we are all supposed to be riveted by the English league. El Clásico, not so much.

The situation underlines the bizarre circumstances of Canadian TV, controlled as it is now by a tiny group of cable/satellite/phone company conglomerates. The other day, Rogers bought up The Score, another sports service. Very soon there will be the CRTC hearings about Bell's acquisition of Astral, a deal that the other cable companies are warning us about. Media concentration, media consolidation. Billions of dollars being spent. And still I can't see Spanish soccer on TV here? The more channels, the less choice. We should be grateful we have Lifetime, at last. Don't get me started.

Airing Tonight

Republican National Convention (multiple channels, 10 p.m.) features Paul Ryan as he accepts the nomination for vice-president and addresses the convention. There's a rumour going around that Ryan, whose people left Tipperary in Ireland in the 1850s, will exit the convention and fly directly to Ireland to be filmed in an Irish pub with a point of Guinness, in order to sew up the Irish-American vote. That'd never happen, would it?

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