Rogers talks up Canadian version of Hulu.com
Grant Surridge, Financial Post
Published: Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Rogers Communications Inc. Tuesday proposed offering its cable customers a Web site where they could view popular television programs free of charge as a way to promote Canadian Internet content.
The service would likely bear some resemblance to the popular U.S. service Hulu.com and serve as an alternative to a proposed levy on Internet service providers to fund Canadian online content.
It would also be incentive for the company’s cable customers not to ditch their subscriptions during a tough economy.
“We think this will do a great job protecting the future of Canadian broadcasting,” David Purdy, vice-president of television services at Rogers, told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in Ottawa.
In order to access the Web site, Rogers customers would have to hold on to their cable subscriptions.
Last quarter, Rogers admitted growth in its cable business suffered as the economy worsened, which followed on news in the United States that some major cable players have begun to lose cable customers as people shed household costs.
Hulu.com is a popular site run in partnership with NBC and News Corp. that offers popular shows like 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live available on-demand and free to viewers. It is so far inaccessible outside the United States because of complicated negotiations over fees for digital broadcast rights.
Canadians looking to view their favourite television shows online must currently negotiate mostly a patchwork network of individual broadcasters sites.
Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable Inc. are discussing with owners of major cable-TV networks ways to give cable subscribers online access to much of the networks’ programming.
U.S. cable companies such as Comcast have started to lose subscribers as well, as consumers turn to sites like Hulu.com where they can watch their favourite shows without paying monthly cable fees on top of their Internet bills.
The federal broadcast regulator is in the middle of a series of hearings to determine how and whether it should regulate the Internet in Canada.
Yesterday, major Internet service providers had their first chance to testify before the commission regarding the controversial ISP levy.
Executives from Rogers referred to the levy as “unlawful,” while a senior Cogeco Cable Inc. executive told the CRTC the proposed ISP levy is a regulatory structure that is “unprecedented in the world.”
Shaw Communications Inc. chief executive Jim Shaw, who has a long history of clashing with the federal regulator, began his presentation by saying there is no need to regulate the Internet in any way.
“Canadians have clearly stated there is no need for this hearing,” he said.
ISPs argue that they are “pipes” rather than broadcasters and therefore any levy imposed on them under the Broadcasting Act would be, in the words of Rogers this morning, “unlawful.”
The ISPs have said several times that any such levy would go directly onto the Internet bills of consumers.
Rogers said its proposed on-demand viewing service would act as a way to promote Canadian content on the Internet, with roughly the same levels of Canadian programming on the service as available currently on television.