Rogers looks to keep Toronto OMNIs

Rogers' takeover of five Citytv stations may depend on the willingness of the CRTC to let the cable giant keep its twin OMNI-branded multilingual stations in Toronto.

To make Rogers Communications’ $375-million purchase of the City stations from CTVglobemedia more palatable to the CRTC, the company has offered to sell off its OMNI-branded TV stations in Vancouver and Winnipeg. But Rogers is betting that holding onto the OMNI 1 and OMNI 2 stations in Toronto will not violate the CRTC’s twin-stick policy, which bars broadcasters from owning more than one conventional TV station in any major market.

The five conventional City stations landed in Rogers’ lap after the CRTC gave the thumbs-down to CTVglobemedia holding on to them as part of the latter’s $1.7-billion takeover of CHUM last month.

Rogers announced plans to launch new OMNI-branded ethnic TV stations in Calgary and Edmonton after receiving broadcast licences for them from the CRTC – ironically, on the same day the City stations were denied to CTVglobemedia, forcing their sell-off. Representatives from Rogers declined to comment on their application to the CRTC for regulatory approval of the City stations’ acquisition. Hearings on the application are set for Aug. 29.

To get around the twin-stick policy, Rogers executives are expected to argue that the two Toronto OMNI stations serve a range of ethnic communities with third-language programming; thus the cable giant’s operation of Citytv Toronto would not contravene the CRTC’s policy of maintaining a diversity of broadcast voices.

At the same time, the multilingual Toronto OMNIs could prove problematic for the CRTC commissioners, as the stations air popular US shows in prime time to drive ratings and advertising sales.

This story first appeared in Playback Daily.