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Shaw, Bell strike programming deal


Shaw Communications Inc. has declared its support for BCE Inc. , saying that its Bell Media division is behaving reasonably in negotiations with cable and satellite carriers to distribute the channels it owns, such as TSN, RDS, and Discovery Channel Canada.

The Calgary-based cable giant announced on Wednesday that it had reached a long-term deal to carry 30 channels owned by Bell Media, declaring that the deal is proof that companies can reach fair deals for content without the intervention of the federal broadcast regulator.

"This is a clear indication that distributors and programming services can achieve reasonable commercial arrangements based on competitive and market realities," Shaw president Peter Bissonnette said in a statement.

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The announcement comes as Bell faces numerous complaints to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission from other cable, satellite and IPTV distributors about negotiations for the channels that it owns.

Last month, the CRTC released a new code of conduct for "vertically integrated" companies – TV providers such as BCE and Shaw that also own some of the channels they distribute to subscribers.

Since that code was released, BCE has seen a number of negotiations stalled by other companies approaching the CRTC with objections to BCE's terms, Bell's senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs, Mirko Bibic, said in an interview on Tuesday.

"At every hint of a dispute, people will run to the commission for help because they have nothing to lose. And already we're seeing that," he said.

Shaw is also a vertically integrated company, following a deal last year to buy the former Canwest broadcast assets. When the new code was revealed, Shaw executives had no objections to the terms. Wednesday's release, however, is an implicit show of support for its competitor and fellow integrated company to work without regular intervention from the CRTC.

BCE has declared that it will continue to challenge the CRTC on its new code for vertical integration, saying it is "commercially unworkable." It first laid out a series of objections in a letter dated Oct. 5. Last week, the CRTC responded by changing the wording of the code, using the term "should" in place of "shall" in several places to reflect the fact that it is meant as a set of guidelines and is not binding. Mr. Bibic said there are a number of other concerns the CRTC has not addressed, which the company will raise again at follow-up proceedings.

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