VMedia pulls Bell channels amid legal threat over Roku app

VMedia, the small internet and internet TV provider, is pulling Bell Media channels from its skinny basic cable package offered over its Roku app while a fight over its right to broadcast the channels over the internet plays out in court.

In an affidavit filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, VMedia says it made the decision after Bell agreed to cover any damages arising from the move, up to a limit of $50,000.

“As a sign of its good faith in dealing with this dispute, VMedia pulled the CTV and CTV2 signals from its service,” it states.

VMedia’s decision to pull the channels is pending the court’s ruling.

“We didn’t go into this process to make enemies.”
– George Burger, VMedia

“We didn’t go into this process to make enemies,” said VMedia’s George Burger.

“We went into this process because we have a view about our entitlement to provide content a certain way.”

George Burger -Vmedia

‘We have a view about our entitlement to provide content a certain way,’ VMedia’s George Burger says. (CBC News )

At issue is VMedia’s new service which offers a so-called Skinny Basic cable package through a Roku app.

The Roku TV and streaming video player has been available in the U.S. and Canada for a while now. Much like Apple TV or Google’s Chromecast, it allows users to stream content from the internet on their television.

In September, VMedia started offering its Skinny Basic cable package through a Roku app for $17.95 a month. The package does not require a specific VMedia internet subscription.

At the time, it meant that anyone with a Roku player and their own internet subscription could have access to about 20 live television channels, including CTV, CBC, Global, as well as U.S. networks ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS.

VMedia is a licensed Broadcasting Distribution Undertaking (BDU).  BDUs, which include cable and satellite services, are generally allowed to retransmit over-the-air and other signals at no cost.

But Bell contends that because VMedia’s skinny basic service on its Roku app is offered over the internet not a private managed network and does not require a specific VMedia internet subscription, it falls outside of the scope of VMedia’s license.

Bell and other cable and satellite companies argued hard — and successfully — at the Supreme court against a system that could have seen cable companies required to pay TV stations for their signals.

That case reaffirmed that cable companies are allowed to pick up private channels’ broadcast signals and retransmit them on their networks without having to pay for them.

Now Bell is contending that VMedia doesn’t have the right to rebroadcast signals from its own stations over the internet. 

“They are in a bit of an ironic position, I guess.” says Burger. 

All of which suggests this case raises interesting questions about the future of technology and how TV signals are accessed by consumers.  

The court hearing is set for Nov. 17. 

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