THESE CRTC HEARINGS INTO big acquisitions have simply become giant public negotiating exercises where a lot of dirty laundry is aired in public by those who feel they’ve been wronged in the past. It becomes payback time, if you will.
The applicant – in this case, Bell Media – puts in an application that is a swing for the fences. It cocks its regulatory bat and takes a mighty swing, looking for that grand slam home run on the first pitch, where all of its proposals are accepted by the Commission – but knowing full well it’s likely to miss and had better look for solid contact and hope for a nice ground rule double. Its executives have the concessions they are ready to make inside their jacket pockets before they even enter the room.
It says here that the forces aligned against Bell who are complaining about outrageous contracts and fee demands for content would be better served by making some of those numbers public somehow – because if they’re bad, it’s better to leak just how awful they are than talk about it, redact everything specific and hope for the best.
However, the dollar figures and other numbers inside individual contracts have never been made public during CRTC proceedings, although the commissioners do get to see a lot of them. So while those stay under the kimono, as they say, here are a few hard questions I would have for those who want to see the Bell-Astral purchase stopped – or dramatically redone – if I were a commissioner:
1. To Cogeco and Quebecor: Bell is stealing some of your cable customers who are switching to Fibe TV and this Astral purchase will make your distribution competitor dramatically larger on the television and radio front in Quebec. This will obviously have an impact on Quebecor’s TVA and Cogeco Radio’s Rythme FM. Please explain how your opposition to this purchase isn’t just rooted in fear of a larger competitor in your home provinces? With all of the vertical integration that has happened recently – and Quebecor, you are a very successful vertically integrated operator – why is this purchase the line in the sand that can not be crossed?
2. To Rogers: You have demanded that Bell be forced to divest Astral’s English language television assets because its audience share would be too great post-merger. Would Rogers then be interested in buying those assets and if so, why didn’t the company jump in and purchase all of Astral when it was up for sale?
3. Some of those against the deal say you are alarmed at the potential impact a larger Bell Media will have on the program rights market, the production of Canadian content and its potential negative impact on the overall advertising market in Canada. However, the Association of Canadian Advertisers, of which you are members, numerous individual ad agencies and media buyers all favour the deal. The various creative organizations, while asking for a larger benefits package as they always do, are also behind Bell-Astral. If the advertisers and television creators and distributors back the merger but you say it will be bad for them, what do you know that they do not?
4. Our media world is increasingly borderless and competition for the attention of Canadian television viewers is fierce. Canadians watch what appeals to them no matter where they can view it. So, why shouldn’t the Commission, when calculating audience share, include all English language television stations available? Why confine it just to Canadian channels when Canadians themselves have many foreign options to pick from, too?
5. You have complained about Bell Media not wanting to offer its non-linear content on a timely basis or asking for more fees, or unreasonable fees, for it. To use a recent example however, the company paid a handsome premium for the rights to broadcast the Olympic Games and as required, Bell offered the mobile rights to other carriers, all of whom refused to pay the price asked by Bell. Why shouldn’t the company be entitled to try and recoup its costs for those rights? Why should the CRTC have to write new regulations or resolve a fee disagreement between yourselves and Bell?
What would you ask the "say no to Bell" forces if you were a CRTC commissioner? Send us what you want to ask. We’ll run them if they're good ones – and we’ll keep your name out of it if you want. Send 'em in to firstname.lastname@example.org.