OTTAWA – Three of the country’s largest media companies – Cogeco, Quebecor, and Eastlink – are banding together in their opposition of Bell Canada’s proposed acquisition of Astral Media.
The trio staged a press conference Tuesday morning in Ottawa calling the $3.38 billion deal an “unprecedented concentration of media ownership” and unveiled a website called SayNotoBell.ca that it says lays out “the risks” and “potential harm” to consumers and the Canadian TV industry should the transaction be approved. It also encourages Canadians to voice their concerns by submitting a letter through the website to Canada's Ministers of Heritage and Industry, the Competition Bureau, the CRTC, and their own Member of Parliament.
“History demonstrates that when too much power is concentrated in one company, it leads to higher prices and poorer choices”, reads the coalition’s press release. “To get popular channels, you could face pressure to pay for other Bell Canada channels that you are not interested in watching. To watch popular programs, you may be pressured to buy other Bell Canada phone, wireless, Internet and TV services.”
It also warned of the creation of fewer original Canadian programs, fewer jobs in Canadian TV production, and an increase in advertising rates that would be passed on to the consumer.
If the deal is approved, the coalition said that Bell Canada would control:
- 42% of Canadian private commercial television programming revenues;
- 45% of English-language television audiences;
- 35% of French-language television audiences;
- 79 TV channels, 107 radio stations and more than 100 websites, twice as much as its nearest competitor; and
- 38% of total advertising revenues from television, 31% from radio programming, and among national time sales, 40% and 38%, respectively.
"As communications industry leaders and concerned Canadians, we view it as our responsibility to inform the public of the dangers inherent in this proposed merger and to oppose this anti-competitive gambit by Bell Canada," said Louis Audet, president and CEO of Cogeco Cable Inc., in the release. "This deal is not in the public interest."
"Few of the world's major economies permit a single private broadcaster to acquire such a dominant share of TV viewing”, added Eastlink CEO Lee Bragg. “Bell Canada's TV audience share would be 50% greater than the audience share of the largest private firms in the USA, Japan, UK, Australia, France or even Russia. Giving one private broadcaster so dominant a share of the television market is bad for consumers and bad for Canada."
"Bell Canada's proposed merger with Astral Media Inc. poses a serious threat to the health of the Canadian broadcasting industry," offered Quebecor Inc. president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. "Competition will be severely reduced and the broadcast market as we know it in Canada will be handcuffed."