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CBS Invades Canada: Launching Its All-Access Pass Service North of the Border in 2018

Phillip Dampier August 8, 2017 Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

CBS All Access is coming to Canada, bringing nearly the entire lineup of CBS shows and features north of the border.

The service will launch in Canada in the first half of 2018, followed shortly thereafter in other countries in “multiple continents” according to CBS. CBS has not yet set prices for the Canadian market, but the price is expected to be comparable to the $5.99 and $9.99 (ad-free) options sold in the United States.

It isn’t known if CBS will also attempt to offer Showtime as an add-on abroad, but the network promises to include most of the 9,000 episodes of CBS and original programming available to Americans without annoying geographic restrictions for those abroad. Canadian viewers will also be able to watch CBSN, the 24/7 streaming news service developed by CBS News specifically for online audiences, as well as on-demand access to certain shows licensed by CBS but not seen on the network.

CBS All Access is available on smartphones, tablets, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Android TV, Fire TV, and most major game consoles.

Canadian Telecom Cos. Raid Montreal Software Developer’s Home, Interrogate Him for 9 Hours

6A group of five men representing Bell, Rogers, and Vidéotron burst into the private home of a Montreal man at 8 a.m. on June 12 without notice and interrogated him for nine hours about his involvement in a search engine that helps Canadian viewers circumvent geographic restrictions on online TV shows and movies.

The lawyer representing Canadian telephone company Bell and two of the country’s largest cable companies — Rogers and Vidéotron, was backed by a bailiff and independent counsel who informed Montreal software developer Adam Lackman, founder of TVAddons and a current defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by the telecom companies, that he was “not permitted to refuse to answer questions” posed by the companies under threat of additional criminal and civil penalties.

Lackman was instructed he had one hour to locate an attorney, but was forbidden to use any electronic or telecommunications device to contact one. He was also not allowed to leave the designated room in his home where he was held unless accompanied by a corporate lawyer or court official. The men also warned Lackman’s attorney he could not counsel Lackman on his answers to their questions and had to remain silent.

“I had to sit there and not leave their sight. I was denied access to medication,” Lackman told TorrentFreak. “I had a doctor’s appointment I was forced to miss. I wasn’t even allowed to call and cancel.”

Lackman was eventually placed in a room in his home and interrogated almost continuously for nine hours, but was given a brief break for dinner and time to finally talk privately with his attorney. By the time the bailiff, two computer technicians, the independent counsel and the corporate attorney left, it was 16 hours later and after midnight. The men left with Lackman’s personal computer and phone, along with a full list of usernames and passwords to access his email and social media accounts.

“The whole experience was horrifying,” Lackman told CBC News. “It felt like the kind of thing you would have expected to have happened in the Soviet Union.”

Lackman

The telecom giants gained access to Lackman’s home with the use of a Anton Piller order, a type of civil search warrant that gives private individuals and companies acting as plaintiffs in a lawsuit full access to a defendant’s home with no warning. The order was designed to allow searches and seizure of relevant evidence at high risk of being destroyed by a defendant.

The Canadian companies were upset because of Lackman’s involvement in Kodi, an open source home theater platform that allows viewers to access stored and online streaming media. Lackman produces apps, known as add-ons, that help Kodi users access live TV streams and recorded content. Unfortunately, that sometimes occurs in contravention of geographic and copyright restrictions imposed by the Canadian companies on Canadian viewers. As a result, several large telecom companies filed suit against Lackman for copyright infringement.

“Approximately 40 million unique users located around the world are actively using infringing add-ons hosted by TVAddons every month, and approximately 900,000 Canadian households use infringing add-ons to access television content,” claims the lawsuit. “The amount of users of infringing add-ons hosted TVAddons is constantly increasing.”

The Honourable B. Richard Bell (Image: Keith Minchin)

On June 9, a Canadian Federal Court judge handed the telecom companies a victory in the form of an interim injunction and restraining order against Lackman prohibiting him from engaging in any activity that could further violate the companies’ interpretation of copyright law. The ruling also included an Anton Piller order, which critics contend often allows private companies to engage in extended fishing expeditions looking for additional evidence to further their case.

The order included the right to seize any and all data surrounding the alleged offense, including equipment, paper records, bank accounts, and anything else in Lackman’s possession that plaintiffs could argue was connected to the lawsuit. It also permitted a bailiff and computer forensics experts to assume control of many of Lackman’s internet domains including TVAddons.ag and Offshoregit.com, as well as his social media and web hosting accounts for a period of two weeks. Since the case was handled ex parte (open to only one side) by the Federal Court, Lackman was not informed or given the opportunity to present a defense.

The ruling evidently allowed the companies to believe they had carte blanche to question Lackman.

When the corporate attorney was not grilling Lackman about his own involvement in Kodi add-ons, he demanded Lackman disclose any and all information he had on an additional 30 individuals that might also be involved in services like TVAddons. That demand fell squarely outside of the range of the court order, which is designed to protect existing evidence, not permit plaintiffs to fish for new evidence to bolster their case.

After the search ended, Lackman and his attorney went to court to challenge what they believed to be one of the most shocking instances of corporate intimidation and legal abuse ever seen in a copyright case. Lackman’s attorney had little trouble convincing the Honourable B. Richard Bell, who presided over a Federal Court hearing on the matter.

Bell found multiple egregious violations of the court order, including a limit on any search to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. but instead lasted until at least midnight. The judge also found ample evidence Lackman’s rights were violated and he was subjected to an intimidation campaign designed to destroy his software business, leave him financially unable to mount any defense against the lawsuit, and get him to both incriminate himself and others against his will.

A court transcript reveals the real motives of Canadian telecom companies: to “neutralize the guy” that is hurting their businesses.

“It is important to note that the Defendant was not permitted to refuse to answer questions under fear of contempt proceedings, and his counsel was not permitted to clarify the answers to questions. I conclude unhesitatingly that the Defendant was subjected to an examination for discovery without any of the protections normally afforded to litigants in such circumstances,” the judge said. “Here, I would add that the ‘questions’ were not really questions at all. They took the form of orders or directions. For example, the Defendant was told to ‘provide to the bailiff’ or ‘disclose to the Plaintiffs’ solicitors’.”

Bell also saw through the plaintiffs’ questioning of Lackman about 30 other individuals that might also be allegedly involved in copyright infringement.

Lose in one venue, win in another.

“I conclude that those questions, posed by Plaintiffs’ counsel, were solely made in furtherance of their investigation and constituted a hunt for further evidence, as opposed to the preservation of then existing evidence,” he wrote in a June 29 order. “I am of the view that [the order’s] true purpose was to destroy the livelihood of the Defendant, deny him the financial resources to finance a defense to the claim made against him, and to provide an opportunity for discovery of the Defendant in circumstances where none of the procedural safeguards of our civil justice system could be engaged.”

The judge ruled the Anton Piller order be declared null and void and ordered all of Lackman’s possessions to be returned to him.

To all observers, it was a withering repudiation of the tactics used by the Canadian telecom companies suing Lackman. But deep pockets always allow lawyers the luxury of a change of venue and the telecom companies promptly appealed Bell’s ruling to the Federal Court of Appeal, requesting a stay of execution of Judge Bell’s order. The court granted the appeal on behalf of the telecom companies and allowed the plaintiffs to keep possession of all seized items, domains, and social media accounts until a full appeal of the case can be heard this fall. However, the court found defects in the execution of the Anton Piller order, and ordered the telecom companies to post a security bond of $140,000 CDN and continue the $50,000 CDN bond in case sanctions are later warranted.

Lackman intends to continue his legal fight and is raising money to cover legal expenses on the fundraising site Indiegogo. He has also set up a new TVAddons website and Twitter account and has resumed the add-on development that got him embroiled in the copyright infringement lawsuit in the first place. But Lackman seems to have at least one judge on his side.

“The defendant has demonstrated that he has an arguable case that he is not violating the [Copyright] Act,” wrote Judge Bell, adding that by the plaintiffs’ own estimate, only about one per cent of Lackman’s add-ons were allegedly used to pirate content.

Updated 8/16: The website is now back under this new URL: https://www.tvaddons.co/

FCC Gives Quick Approval of TV Station Sale That Could Speed AT&T-Time Warner Merger

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Monday it approved Time Warner Inc’s sale of a broadcast station in Atlanta to Meredith Corp, a transaction that could help speed Time Warner’s planned merger with AT&T Inc.

In January, AT&T said it expected to be able to bypass the FCC in its planned $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner because it would not seek to transfer any significant Time Warner licenses.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said previously he did not plan to use the proposed TV station license transfer as a way to examine the AT&T-Time Warner merger. About a dozen senators had urged him to review the deal.

The station that Time Warner is selling, WPCH-TV, for $70 million, is its only FCC-regulated broadcast station. It has other, more minor FCC licenses.

Meredith has operated WPCH-TV for Time Warner since 2011. It was previously known as WTBS. The station is no longer considered a superstation in the United States, after Turner Broadcasting System created a new national network it dubbed TBS. WTBS changed its over-the-air call letters to WPCH, rebranded as “Peachtree TV,” and is considered an independent television station airing off-network sitcoms and dramas. However, WPCH is still widely seen across Canada, where it remains a “superstation” after Canadian regulators refused to allow Canadian providers to carry Turner’s TBS network.

WPCH-TV, an independent TV station in Atlanta, dubs itself as “Peachtree TV.”

In a statement on Monday, Meredith said it was pleased the FCC approved the application and that it anticipated “moving forward expeditiously to close this deal.”

The company said in February it expected to close on the sale by June 30 and that the deal would not have a material impact on its results.

Time Warner did not immediately comment on the FCC approval.

The Justice Department has to prove a proposed deal harms competition in order to block it. The FCC has broad leeway to block a merger it deems is not in the “public interest” and can impose additional conditions.

AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson told CNBC in February the Justice Department review was ongoing and he thought the deal would close by the end of the year.

“It’s a clean transaction,” he said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Stop the Cap!/Phillip Dampier.)

Bell Acquires Manitoba Telecom for $3.9 Billion; Cell Phone Rates Expected to Rise

bell badBCE, Inc., the parent company of Bell Canada, has acquired Manitoba Telecom Services, Inc. (MTS), in a deal worth $3.9 billion, further enlarging Canada’s largest telecommunications company.

“Under the terms of this transaction, MTS will achieve much more than it could have as an independent company,” Manitoba Telecom president and CEO Jay Forbes said in a conference call with analysts. “BCE’s commitment to invest $1 billion over five years into Manitoba’s telecommunications infrastructure will also contribute greatly to the prosperity of our province and the quality of our customer experience.”

Many MTS customers and consumer advocates disagree with Forbes’ assessment, noting the deal will further consolidate Canada’s wireless marketplace by eliminating the province’s largest wireless carrier – MTS. The wireless business has nearly 500,000 customers – by far the largest provider in the region. Under the deal, BCE will sell off about one-third of MTS’ customers and retail storefronts to competitor Telus in a separate transaction.

Manitoba and neighboring residents in Saskatchewan pay some of the lowest prices for telecom services in Canada. MTS offers unlimited, flat rate Internet plans for both its broadband and wireless customers — plans likely to disappear or become more expensive after Bell takes over. The result, according to one Canadian telecom expert, will be higher rates.

“With MTS out of the way — and Bell and Telus sharing the same wireless network — prices are bound to increase to levels more commonly found in the rest of the country,” lawyer Michael Geist wrote on his blog.

The deal is also likely to deliver a death-blow to a government commitment assuring Canadians of at least four competing choices for wireless service. If Bell’s buyout is approved by regulators, Manitoba will be served by just three competitors — all charging substantially more than MTS.

...but soon we'll be with Bell.

…but soon we’ll be with Bell.

“Compare Bell’s wireless pricing for consumers in Manitoba and Ontario,” offered Geist. “The cost of an unlimited nationwide calling share plan in Manitoba is $50. The same plan in Ontario is $65. The difference in data costs are even larger: Bell offers 6GB for $20 in Manitoba. The same $20 will get you just 500MB in Ontario. In fact, 5GB costs $50 in Ontario, more than double the cost in Manitoba for less data. The other carriers such as Rogers and Telus also offer lower pricing in Manitoba. The reason is obvious: the presence of a fourth carrier creates more competition and lower pricing.”

That Manitoba Telecom would be up for sale at all came as a result of its controversial privatization in 2006 under a previous Conservative provincial government. The decision to privatize came despite a commitment from then-Premier Gary Filmon that Manitoba Telecom should remain a provincially-owned telecom company. Critics point to one possible reason for the flip-flop. Shortly after leaving politics, Filmon was appointed to the board of directors of the privatized company and was given $1.4 million in director fees and compensation over ten years, along with company shares with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Economist Toby Sanger compared costs and returns of Manitoba Telecom and SaskTel, Saskatchewan’s publicly-owned telecommunications company. After two decades, the cost of a basic landline with SaskTel is $8 less per month than MTS, and SaskTel paid $497 million in corporate income taxes to the citizens of Saskatchewan – SaskTel’s shareholders – over the past five years, compared to $1.2 million paid by MTS over the same time period. In 2014, the CEO of SaskTel earned $499,492 compared to $7.8 million paid to the CEO of MTS for managing a very similar sized operation.

The acquisition will be reviewed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the Competition Bureau and Industry Canada, and could be approved later this year or early 2017.

Canada Talks TV: Preparing for A-La-Carte Cable TV; Providers Threaten Rate Hikes

alacarte

Does Canada’s Food TV need special protection when it made 53% gross profits on the backs of cable subscribers that pay for the network whether they watch it or not?

“If you cut your cable, then your Internet is going to go up,” predicts Gary Pelletier, president of the Canadian chapter of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing.

That is just one of several predictions many Canadian cable and phone companies are claiming will come from the “disastrous decision” to allow consumers the freedom to pick and pay for only the cable channels they want to watch. Amidst claims that over 10,000 jobs will be lost, chaos and bankruptcy will stalk minority and niche cable networks, consumers will pay much higher bills, and American programming will boycott Canada fearing a-la-carte could make its way into the United States, Canada is at least having an adult discussion about the future of television and where it fits in the country’s identity.

Big changes are coming as a result of the latest great soul-searching made by our good neighbors to the north, always concerned about the potential of the Canadian Experience being overrun, if not decimated by the United States’ entertainment hegemony. In a moment of clarity, regulators have just realized what the rest of English-speaking Canada already knew: protectionist content regulations don’t work on the Internet. Canadians routinely bypass geographical restrictions and Canadian content laws with virtual private networks that relocate them, online at least, to a home address in the U.S. so they can binge-watch the unrestricted American versions of Netflix, Hulu and other online video services.

Regulators have now adopted the attitude – “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” encouraging Canadian entertainment producers to create fewer, but better shows that will not only attract Canadian audiences, but those abroad.

Only the exchange is supposed to be mutual. High quality Canadian television productions like Orphan Black, Schitt’s Creek, X Company, The Book of Negroes, This Life, 19-2, Vikings, Killjoys, Rookie Blue, and Murdoch Mysteries are all among Canadian critics’ top favorites. But relatively few Americans know these shows exist or assume they are co-productions owned by some American entertainment conglomerate. Only a brief glimpse of a Canadian flag during the warp speed end credits might clue viewers this isn’t the case.

Despite protectionist media policies that have endured since 1970, the Canadians are now boldly going where Americans have so far feared to tread. They are having the conversation about the future of television and online entertainment in all forms while American media barons remain in denial.

For average consumers, the biggest change will begin next spring when the era of Canadian a-la-carte cable television arrives, allowing consumers to take an ax to the expensive 120-300 channel television package once and for all. Starting March 1, all Canadian providers will be required to offer consumers a basic cable package priced at no more than $25 a month, containing Canadian and U.S. over the air stations and networks, educational, and public channels. If you want more, you can have it by buying channels or mini-packages of networks individually to create a personalized cable TV lineup of networks you actually care to watch.

Programmers across Canada, particularly those catering to sports fans, foreign audiences, religious viewers, and minorities are horrified by the idea. So are media critics that fear the change could help bring an end to Canada’s unique multilingual and multicultural identity.

special reportCustomers like James Rehor of Hamilton explains why.

“Why would I pay for it? Why do I get it? Why does it come on my TV?” asks the 60-year-old construction worker. He’s ready on day one to purge the large number of French and other non-English channels from his Cogeco Cable lineup. Rehor offers comfort to sports programmers, however. He’s a big fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, so Leafs TV, Sportnet, and TSN will stay.

Non-sports fans are another matter. They can’t wait to ditch the sports networks that are always the most expensive channels in a Canadian cable package.

“Clearly the most expensive (channels) will always be sports,” Pelletier tells the Canadian Press. “At the end of the day, for sports watchers, their cable bill will probably stay the same or increase, maybe … In the case of someone who doesn’t watch any sports at all, their bill will probably decrease.”

An Age of Abundance: Canadian telecom regulators are transforming media regulations in Canada, recognizing the way Canadians watch television has changed. Quality, not quantity, is now most important. CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais discusses the new reality. (6:08)

Pelletier and his industry friends are on a mission to convince Canadians to leave well enough alone and not drop the current all-for-one price cable television package for a-la-carte — not realizing the potential consequences.

catnipSome in the cable industry have tried other scare tactics to no avail.

One industry-backed study predicted pick-and-pay could cost the economy 10,000 jobs. Consumers could care less. Unifor, a union that represents many in the television sector, seemed to agree Canada’s cultural heritage will be at risk with lowest common denominator programming dominating from St. John’s to Vancouver, much of it shoveled from the United States. But Canadians still want their House of Cards and Homeland.

Howard Law, a media spokesman for Unifor, predicts less profitable Canadian channels will fold under a pick-and-pay pricing model.

“The introduction of pick and pay will, in itself, lead to a major loss of revenues to Canadian broadcasting system, which ultimately plays out in less Canadian content and less Canadian jobs and less Canadian broadcasting,” he said in an interview on CBC’s The Exchange with Amanda Lang.

Minority interest and religious channels are also worried about their future. Most of those networks are classified as “specialty channels” by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Legacy networks that have been around since at least the 1990s have been sitting pretty, protected by their designation as a “Category A” specialty station. Unlike in the United States, Canadian cable networks are licensed to operate by the CRTC, and at least 60 of those Category A networks also enjoy “genre protection,” a CRTC policy that guarantees their channel carriage on Canadian cable, satellite, and telco TV systems and protection from other cable networks that want to run the same kind of programming.

For decades, protectionist Canadian content regulations made certain Canadian television reflected its audience. But online video and the Internet has allowed Canadians to bypass traditional cable television to watch they want, not what the government hopes they will. New CRTC rules reflect that reality as Canadian TV rethinks how to get the viewer’s attention. From CBC-TV’s The National (4:16)

CRTC policies have allowed Canadian specialty channels to flourish despite operating in a smaller marketplace with fewer viewers than their American counterparts. That means networks like FoodTV and HGTV in Canada have profit margins ranging from 53-58 percent. Fashion Television and BookTV made an improbable $2.7 million in pre-tax profit, not so much from viewers but from the licensing fees every Canadian cable customer pays for the four networks whether they watch them or not.

From its inception, Canadian TV has always faced a looming shadow from the south. Protecting Canada's identity has been a priority for decades.

From its start, Canadian TV has always faced a looming shadow from the south. Protecting Canada’s identity has been a priority for decades.

“If you’re a specialty channel that’s lived within the protective cocoon of bundling for years, you’ve gotten used to having a full-time job with benefits,” independent technology analyst Carmi Levy told CBC News. “Contrast that with living outside the protective cocoon, you’re essentially a freelancer, you fight for every contract, you have no benefits, there are no guarantees that money will be coming tomorrow or next week.”

It probably won’t be coming from subscribers like Mr. Rehor, who won’t hesitate to drop channels if they go unwatched.

The CRTC is also doing some dropping of its own, starting with genre protection, which could lead many specialty networks to follow American cable networks that today depend on chasing ratings to justify their licensing fees. The unintended result in the United States has been questionable lineup changes like the appearance of Law & Order rerun marathons on WEtv, a network supposedly dedicated to women’s entertainment. Ovation, a fine arts independent cable network that is about a niche as a network can be, depended on weekend binges of PBS’ Antiques Roadshow reruns in 2012 just to attract enough viewers to show up in the ratings.

Lesser known networks like OutTV, Canada’s only network dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender viewers, may face an uncertain future if it can’t charge a premium price to make up for expected subscriber losses from pick and pay. Other niche channels may have to merge with other networks or more likely relaunch with an online platform and deliver a reduced menu of content to audiences.

crtcLarge Canadian mainstream networks and programmers don’t expect too much change from pick and pay, as most Canadians will likely still demand a package with their programming included. But distributors – cable, satellite, and telco TV platforms, do expect some major changes. The average Canadian now pays around $50 a month for basic cable, a price that will be cut in half next spring.

Rogers Cable already knows what is coming. It ran a trial in 2011 in London, Ont., with 1,000 customers who were given the choice of picking and paying for the channels they wanted. It didn’t take long for the cable company to discover customers loved it and TV stations and cable programmers hated it.

“We found that customers like bundles, but want to build their own. They want a basic package and an extra package they create,” Rogers spokesman Kevin Spafford told the Toronto Sun. “We did get push back from TV stations. There was concern about offering this service. They did not want us to proceed with that model.”

After the trial ended, Rogers allowed the pilot project participants to keep their pick and pay packages, something they’ve held tightly for over four years.

Rogers’ pilot offered something like what the CRTC is demanding be available to all Canadians:

rogers logoROGERS PICK AND PLAY PILOT

  • $20 a month for “skinny basic” TV package of Canadian stations. (The CRTC plan mandates no more than $25.)
  • 15-channel package for $27 a month. Other packages of 20 and 25 stations also offered, for more money. (The CRTC wants networks to offer channels individually or in mini-bundles.)
  • U.S. major networks offered for $3 a month. (Under the CRTC policy, these stations may appear under the basic or a-la-carte tiers.)

REGULAR ROGERS

  • Basic: $40 a month, 190 channels
  • Digital Plus: $63, 220 channels
  • Sports packages: $77, 230 channels
  • VIP TV: $77, 270 channels
  • VIP Ultimate: $119, 320 channels

The upcoming changes are probably the biggest in Canadian cable television history, but they still may not be enough to attract cord-nevers — those who have never subscribed to cable TV. Most are under 30 and already watch all their favorite shows online. Some budget-minded Canadians who want to cut their cable bill may consider joining them by cutting the cord altogether or slimming down their cable packages, but Pelletier warns that cable operators will not leave their money on the table.

cablecordSupplementing a slimmer cable package with a streaming service or two could increase data charges, Pelletier warns. Plus, you may have to surrender any discounts you get from bundling cable with home phone, Internet and/or wireless service.

Usage capped Internet is also still an effective deterrent for cord-cutting and whether your television entertainment comes over the cable or online, providers will still make a run for your wallet. Some observers predict providers will dramatically increase the retail prices of a-la-carte networks to limit potential savings while also continuing to raise broadband prices.

A 2014 national PIAC poll found 90 per cent of 1,000 consumers polled were willing to pay an additional $1 a month per channel, while 54 per cent would be willing to go $3 a month, and 21 per cent would be willing to pay $5 a month for an extra channel of their choosing. Many don’t realize under the current system the wholesale rate for many channels is under 50 cents a month. Considering what Canadians are willing to pay, it is likely cable companies will price channels according to what the marketplace will tolerate, which could be around $3 for each channel a month.

Suspicion about any cable company offering a New Deal is something Americans and Canadians have in common. Mr. Rehor is already keeping a wary eye.

“I think it’s a good idea, I just don’t know how they’re going to really work it,” he says, fearing it could ultimately end up costing the same amount he pays now.

CBC News offers this extended discussion about the implications of “pick and pay” cable television. (10:11)

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