Red Terror vs. FSWC
March 7, 2006
I've been engaged in a Quixotic battle for the past couple years. As many rugby fans in the United States know, the network formerly known as Fox Sports World has re-branded itself as The Soccer Channel and abandoned its rugby programming. The station was originally picked up in 2001 and continues to be sold to digital cable subscribers in Canada as Fox Sports World Canada (FSWC), despite it actually being owned by Canadian media giant CanWest Global Communications.
Like it's American source, FSWC has also abandoned rugby -- and cricket -- in contravention of the conditions of their licence as outlined in their original application and last years' licence amendment to the Canadian Radio & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The station continues to promote their specialty service on cable television by advertising rugby.
For the past two years I have tried to get answers to reasonable questions directed to both FSWC and Global about what's going on -- I have made repeated contact by mail, email and telephone -- and I have never received a response. Since they don't think the rules apply to them and don't care about their subscribers, I have filed a complaint to the CRTC, if only to get some answers. Here's my complaint...
I am filing a complaint against the Global Television Network Inc. and Fox Sports World Canada Holdco Inc., partners in a general partnership carrying on business as Fox Sports World Canada Partnership Across Canada.
My complaints are that:
1. Fox Sports World Canada is failing to live up to the promise of their license application and amendment;
2. Fox Sports World Canada and its digital cable service provider Rogers are promoting false advertising;
3. Fox Sports World Canada is ripping-off their subscribers; and
4. Fox Sports World Canada will not answer to repeated queries and grievances filed by mail, email and telephone.
In a public notice issued on 13 January 2000 [CRTC 2000-6] the Commission issued a licensing framework policy for new digital pay and specialty services.
The Commission’s summary notice set out a framework, “for licensing new digital Canadian programming services. The framework will enhance diversity and choice for viewers, in the current and evolving digital distribution environment.”
The summary said this approach makes possible, “the provision of a diverse selection of attractive new Canadian programming services to be distributed to Canadian viewers with digital technology” and “promote alliances between Canadian and foreign services.”
The introduction to that same notice, under paragraph 12, promoted the "advantages of digital distribution” to include “greater opportunities for viewers to interact with the programming product.”
On 24 November 2000, the Commission approved a Category 2 specialty television service to be known as Fox Sports World Canada. [Decision CRTC 2000-568]
The nature of service was stated that Fox Sports World Canada, the licensee, “shall provide a national English-language Category 2 specialty television service devoted exclusively to the coverage of cricket, rugby and soccer.” [Emphasis mine.]
On 30 April 2004, Global Television Network Inc. and Fox Sports World Canada Holdco Inc., partners in a general partnership carrying on business as Fox Sports World Canada Partnership Across Canada, applied for a licence amendment [CRTC 2004-28]. The applicant requested that, “The licensee proposed to amend the condition of licence defining its nature of service. Under the proposed amendment, the service would be devoted primarily to the coverage of cricket, rugby and soccer." [Emphasis mine.]
On 12 January 2005 the commission approved of the application [CRTC 2005-4] “to amend the licence of the national Category 2 specialty programming undertaking Fox Sports World Canada by replacing the licensee’s current condition of licence defining its nature of service.”
There were interventions against the FSWC application amendment. As noted in paragraph 6, “Mr. Philip Stiff stated that Fox Sports already broadcasts too few games from the tournaments and leagues it tries to cover. He added that the service should strive to be more “complete and comprehensive” with the sports it is already licensed to broadcast.”
As detailed in paragraph 12 of the commission’s decision, Fox replied in its submission that their “application seeks to improve the service – not dismantle it.” It further stated that it is their intention “not to reduce the amount of quality cricket, rugby and soccer that the service broadcasts, but to show fewer repeats off-season.” [Emphasis mine.]
Paragraph 13 of that same amendment application notes that FSWC, “stated that programming rights and reception cost considerations can make it difficult to broadcast only cricket, rugby and soccer throughout the entire year. It added that there is not an unlimited supply of high quality programming within those sports available for broadcast year-round.” [Emphasis mine.]
In the Commission’s analysis and determination, paragraph 18 of public notice 2000-6 stated that although the CRTC, “will license Category 2 services that are competitive with each other, it will not license a Category 2 service that is directly competitive with an existing pay or specialty service or with a new Category 1 service.”
The CRTC approved Global Television Network Inc. and Fox Sports World Canada Holdco Inc.’s application, but in paragraph 22 the Secretary General duly noted that, “the Commission therefore replaces the licensee’s condition of licence defining its nature of service with the following condition of licence:
“The licensee shall provide a national, English-language Category 2 specialty service devoted primarily to the coverage of cricket, rugby and soccer.” [Emphasis mine.]
Under their amendment proposal, Fox Sports World Canada claimed their service, “would be devoted primarily to the coverage of cricket, rugby and soccer,” and insisted that their application, “seeks to improve the service – not dismantle it.”
In fact, for the past two years FSWC has neither devoted nor improved their coverage of rugby and cricket, they have actually abandoned it. There is currently an extensive amount of rugby and cricket programming available internationally, but FSWC is showing none of it in either live or taped form.
The current FSWC broadcast schedule is the same as it has been for a year – no matches, just a pathetic sop to subscribers in the form of one 30-minute package program per week per sport titled Total Rugby and ICC Cricket World.
Worse, the Total Rugby program is now also available on Headline Sports down the cable dial. There is no exclusivity to FSWC’s rugby service whatsoever. It is a joke.
The extent of FSWC’s rugby and cricket programming are those two weekly programs, each representing a miniscule 0.29% of FSWC’s weekly broadcast schedule. With a repeat showing, each sport is thusly represented by less that 0.6% of the weekly schedule. Collectively, rugby and cricket – two of the three sports that FSWC promised and promises to provide their audience in licence applications and amendments – constitutes a paltry sum that totals less that 1.2% of weekly programming.
That is not a service provider. This is a bait-and-switch offer that provides no service, and contravenes the conditions of their broadcast licence.
The deceit is equally bothersome. Fox Sports World Canada and their cable service provider Rogers both continue to air promotional spots that advertise FSWC as featuring the best rugby matches from around the globe.
Fox Sports World Canada is promoted on the official Rogers website as, “a sports channel devoted to soccer, cricket and rugby. Whether you are a new fan or a lifelong follower, FOX Sports World Canada brings you a whole new world of choice.” [Emphasis mine.]
Again, there are no rugby or cricket matches being broadcast from anywhere around the world.
Fox Sports World Canada’s schedule is undoubtedly a bonanza for soccer enthusiasts. But the sad truth is that many of their taped soccer matches have already been previously televised on Rogers Sportsnet, TLN, Headline Sports (The Score), GOL-TV and TSN.
In a nutshell: Fox Sports World Canada is repeating programming that is already available elsewhere to Canadian subscribers; and at the same time FSWC has walked away from televising programming that they promised in the conditions of their CRTC licenence application and is currently unavailable anywhere else on Canadian TV.
I have made repeated queries to Fox and Global regarding these matters over the past two years via letter, email and voicemail. The letters have been courteous and dignified, but not once have I received a response. This is totally unprofessional and dismissive of a concerned paying customer.
Fox Sports World Canada is making false advertising claims; they are not fulfilling the promise of their licence conditions; they are deceiving paying subscribers; and they refuse to respond to customer complaints. Please investigate and advise.
(Reference number: 292233)
Oh, and those previous promises I made to start kicking the tar out of the Canadian Press and the IRB -- I'll start on that next week...