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CRTC rules against Shaw in OutTV dispute

Gay channel treated unfairly, against regulations

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has ruled that Shaw Communications violated CRTC regulations by failing to market gay and lesbian digital specialty television channel OutTV equitably along with other channels in the same category.

Shaw subjected OutTV “to an undue disadvantage with respect to the marketing of OutTV, a Category one specialty service, contrary to section nine of the Broadcasting Distribution Regulations,” reads the Nov 4 CRTC decision.

In its decision the CRTC agreed with OutTV that Shaw did not include the channel in its all-in packages, position it fairly on the digital dial or tell subscribers about the channel even though it required them to ask for it specifically.

“The commission accepted our position entirely and agreed,” OutTV chief operating officer Brad Danks told Xtra on Nov 5.

The CRTC directed Shaw to respond to its decision within 30 days with a list of the steps it will take to ensure that it markets OutTV fairly in the future.

“Are we going to like that proposal? I don’t know,” says Danks. “Based on previous behaviour, no. It will be a pyrrhic victory for us if it doesn’t actually turn into something tangible.”

Even though the CRTC found in favour of OutTV, its only real power to compel Shaw to abide by the rules is to yank Shaw’s licence entirely. The CRTC doesn’t have the authority to fine Shaw or to make the cable giant reimburse OutTV for the millions in earnings Danks says the channel has lost over the years because of unfair treatment by Shaw.

Still, Danks says he is pleased by the decision and is ready to move forward.

“What we’re really looking for is just a normal business relationship with Shaw and I hope we can achieve that,” he says.

This is not the first conflict between Shaw and OutTV. In 2001 when the channel, then under different management and called PrideVision, debuted along with a score of other digital cable channels Shaw resisted including it in its lineup at all. In order to see the CRTC-mandated free preview of PrideVision, Shaw customers had to program their set-top boxes to receive it every time they turned on their televisions. The free preview of PrideVision was accessible only through the pay-per-view menu and led subscribers to believe they’d be charged one cent every time they accessed it.

The CRTC ruled against Shaw then too.

And in April 2005 OutTV, not yet under its current management, filed another CRTC complaint against Shaw alleging inequitable treatment because Shaw was charging its subscribers more than twice the price for OutTV of any other category one channel on its dial. That complaint was withdrawn before the scheduled CRTC hearing after Shaw reached an agreement with OutTV.

Xtra attempted to contact Shaw for this story but there has so far been no response.

Pink Triangle Press, which produces Xtra.ca, owns a minority share in OutTV.