Canada's media sector is likely to see further consolidation following a federal regulatory decision to allow the nation's cable companies to control speciality television channels.

Companies such as Alliance Atlantis, which controls several such channels and which will be launching the Independent Film Channel later this year, and Astral Media, which owns Canada's largest pay-TV operation, will now be much more attractive to well-capitalised cable concerns such as Toronto-based Rogers Communications and Calgary-based Shaw Communications. Both firms are already known to be circling prime properties on the television landscape.

The decision is also good news for Quebec-based cabler Groupe Videotron, whose parent company Quebecor is currently fighting its way out of debt, as the ruling will most likely boost the value of the entire cable sector.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) previously forbade the cable companies to own analogue spectrum channels out of concern for stifling competition in the market. But the CRTC's approval last year of the takeover by telecom giant BCE of the nation's largest private television network, CTV, forced the regulator to level the playing field. BCE, thanks to its DTH satellite services and DSL Internet services, is the cablers' chief rival.

Current owners of speciality channels expressed concern that a cable-owned service might receive preferential placement in channel assignments. The CRTC however made ownership approval contingent on fair access. Additionally, confidential information about a competitor's channel received through the course of the cable business cannot be relayed to a cable company's broadcast assets.