CRTC gives conditional approval to Rogers-Shaw deal

The commission says Rogers must give more to Canadian content funds and bolster Citytv's news coverage in Western Canada.

By Victoria Ahearn

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has approved Rogers Communications’ proposed $26 billion takeover of Shaw broadcasting services but with conditions and modifications.

The CRTC has set out several safeguards to ensure the transaction benefits Canadians and the Canadian broadcasting system, and to prevent independent programming services from being placed at a disadvantage when negotiating with Rogers.

Among the safeguards announced on Thursday: Rogers must contribute $27.2 million to various initiatives and funds that will benefit the Canadian content system, including those that support the production of content by Indigenous producers and members of equity seeking groups. The funds listed in the decision were the Canada Media Fund, the Independent Local News Fund, the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund and the Broadcasting Participation Fund.

That amount is five times more in benefits to the broadcasting system than Rogers had originally proposed.

The CRTC will also require Rogers to distribute at least 45 independently-owned French and English-language channels on its cable and satellite services, and maintain or improve the quality of service, as well as the accessibility of these services for Canadians with disabilities, for current Shaw customers.

In addition, Rogers will have to report annually on its commitments to increase its support for local news, which includes employing a higher number of journalists at its Citytv stations across the country and by producing an additional 48 news specials each year that reflect local communities.

The condition also includes the creation of a Western Canada news service, the addition of two Western Canada-based journalists to CityNews’ Parliament Hill team, the creation of an Indigenous news team and the hiring of journalists primarily from equity seeking groups.

In response to some intervenors’ concerns that the acquisition would make Corus’s Global stations ineligible for the Independent Local News Fund (ILNF), the CRTC said it will consider the issue as part of a separate proceeding the commission already intended to hold regarding the ILNF.

Rogers currently operates cable services in several provinces, 12 over-the-air television stations, several national discretionary TV services and over 50 radio stations across Canada.

The CRTC’s approval covers the acquisition of “16 cable services based in Western Canada, a national satellite television service and other broadcast and television services.”

In considering the application, the CRTC said it looked at whether the transaction serves the public interest, consistent with the overall objectives of the Broadcasting Act. The decision comes after various hearings about the transaction and despite a House of Commons report released earlier this month stating the transaction raised concerns over the state of competition in Canada’s telecommunications industry.

“Given the nature of this transaction, we have put in place safeguards aimed at addressing potential risks to the broadcasting system for both consumers and programming services,” said Ian Scott, chairperson and CEO of the CRTC, in a statement announcing Thursday’s decision.

“Rogers must honour all existing contracts for Shaw customers. This adds to the safeguards already in place, which allow Canadians to subscribe to a basic television package and to select channels either individually or in small packages.”

While the CRTC’s decision concerns the broadcasting side of the acquisition, it is still subject to approval from the Competition Bureau, a process more focused on the deal’s impact on Canada’s wireless market. Rogers has previously said it expects the transaction to close in June.