MONTREAL – Bell Canada was quick to respond to what it described as a “public misinformation campaign” launched by Cogeco, Eastlink, Quebecor earlier in the day around its acquisition of Astral Media.
The communications giant issued a statement acknowledging that the proposed transaction will change the competitive landscape, and said that “new reality has competitors worried”.
"With Astral, we're actually leveling the playing field with the long-dominant media/cable company in Québec, Québecor, and bringing new investment and increased competition to the media marketplace," said Martine Turcotte, Bell's vice chair for Quebec, in the statement. "Coupled with the fast growth of next-generation services like Bell Fibe TV against traditional cable, we have our competitors concerned about how quickly their traditional market dominance is eroding. But it's the kind of new investment in content, services and networks that consumers deserve, and Bell is delivering."
Bell also said that its pending acquisition “meets all CRTC rules regarding media ownership”, and that if approved, Bell Media's national viewership share will be 33.5% for English-language TV and 24% for French-language, both within the CRTC threshold of 35%, below which transactions can proceed without concern.
The company also dismissed the coalition’s accusations that it would restrict content to its own platforms, noting that Bell Media “is in the business of providing content to companies like Québecor, Cogeco and Eastlink” and plans to continue to make its content widely available across multiple platforms.
"While it's understandable that our rivals would try to eliminate the competitive threat posed by Bell, consumers benefit when companies innovate, invest and compete in the marketplace, rather than playing regulatory games," added chief legal and regulatory officer Mirko Bibic. "The CRTC already has clear and extensive rules governing how Bell Media and other content providers sell our services, and how other distributors package them for consumers - rules we obviously respect."
The duelling press releases prompted a statement from Canada’s Commissioner of Competition, Melanie Aitken, who confirmed that the Competition Bureau is currently reviewing the proposed acquisition. The Competition Act mandates that the Bureau, as an independent law enforcement agency, review mergers to determine whether they are likely to result in a substantial lessening or prevention of competition.
“The Bureau is aware that a number of serious concerns have been expressed by market participants related to the effect that increased concentration and vertical integration in the broadcasting industry are said to be having on consumers and other television programming providers”, reads Aitken's statement. “While the Bureau is required by law to conduct its work confidentially, I can confirm that we are actively reviewing these concerns. Should the Bureau determine that the proposed transaction is likely to substantially lessen or prevent competition, we would not hesitate to take appropriate action."
- Lesley Hunter