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TSN plans for three new sports channels this fall, in answer to losing NHL bid

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TORONTO - Canadian sports fans will soon have more options in their television lineup, with the launch of three new TSN channels this fall.

Bell Media announced plans on Tuesday for TSN3, TSN4 and TSN5 starting this fall.

The additional channels will allow the broadcaster to air multiple versions of its SportsCentre news show for various time zones and give it more leeway in real-time coverage of live events, it said.

The announcement comes as Bell Media (TSX:BCE) reworks its sports programming strategy in the wake of losing out to competitor Rogers Media, who paid $5.2 billion for the broadcast rights of NHL games in November.

Rogers has worked to focus its media operations more on sports coverage including the purchase last year of The Score and rebranding it as a Sportsnet channel.

Sports have become a priority for Canada's largest broadcasters as they look to attract more advertisers in a market where live viewership is rapidly declining for most programs.

Studies have found more Canadians are watching recorded television than ever before and skipping past commercials. Sports are considered one of the few events that viewers still insist on watching live, which broadcasters believe increases the chance they'll watch the commercials

George Cope, the chief executive of Bell's parent company BCE Inc., said the company has no intention of giving it up its leadership position in the sports business.

"This is going to be game changing," Cope told shareholders at BCE's annual meeting.

He later said that customers won't have to pay more on their cable bill for the extra channels.

"The only impact for them is ... you'll now have all five channels available for what you used to be paying for the two," Cope said.

The sports channel licenses with national broadcast regulator allow for multiple "feeds" of the same channels, which means the new TSN channels won't replace others on cable operator's lineups.

With more channels, TSN said it will have extra space to air programs from U.S. sports network ESPN, and live coverage of events from various sports leagues, including the NBA and NCAA.

TSN also has rights to certain NHL hockey games that don't fall under Rogers' national agreement with the league. A selection of 26 Toronto Maple Leafs games, 52 Ottawa Senators games, as well as pre-season games, will be broadcast in certain parts of Canada where blackouts aren't in effect.

The extra channels will also give TSN the option to broadcast expanded coverage of events like curling and tennis, which have multiple matches at the same time.

"The essence of sports viewing is that it's live," said TSN president Stewart Johnston in an interview.

"This makes sure that we now have those opportunities to broadcast the premium content we've got live, and it also gives us the opportunity to go out there and acquire more."

A greater focus has been placed on streaming content as well, with both Rogers and Bell's new TSN channels promising its subscribers will have content available through multiple platforms, including their mobile phones and tablets.

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