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CTV to sell sports web; Rogers irked

Co. filed application with CRTC under care of independent trustee

MONTREAL — CTV announced Friday that it is finally set to sell its 40% stake in Canuck specialty sports web Sportsnet, but execs at Rogers Communications continue to complain that CTV is doing everything possible to ensure that Rogers is not able to take over the channel.

A year ago, broadcast regulator the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ordered CTV to divest its interest in Sportsnet as a condition of approving CTV’s acquisition of TSN, Canada’s leading sports broadcaster. But CTV has been delaying the launch of the sales process for months; many observers believe BCE, which owns CTV, is loath to sell the stake to Rogers. BCE and Rogers are major competitors, with BCE’s direct-to-home service Bell Expressvu in a ferocious battle with Rogers’ cable systems for TV viewers.

On Friday, CTV filed an application with the CRTC to puts its stake in Sportsnet under the care of an independent trustee. It will be the trustee that handles the sale. CTV execs said many qualified parties have expressed serious interest in acquiring the CTV stake in the sports network, which has 7.3 million subscribers. CTV said the value of Canadian specialty webs has increased significantly in the past year, citing the example of the Women’s Television Network, which was sold recently for C$205 million ($131 million) to Corus Entertainment.

But Rogers vice chairman Phil Lind said the company is frustrated by CTV’s refusal to allow Rogers to buy the CTV stake. Rogers owns 29.9% of Sportsnet and holds another 10% in trust because the CRTC has a regulatory ceiling on cable ownership of specialty channels. This policy is under review by the CRTC right now. Lind said Rogers and CTV had a deal in principle last spring, which was eventually terminated by CTV.

CTV execs said they were sorry to have to let go a channel that the company founded in October 1998.

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