WHILE WE HAVE NO inside information to give you, we have covered enough CRTC hearings featuring the current crop of Bell executives and regulatory folks to guess at what the thrust of their presentation will be when they face the panel of CRTC commissioners in Montreal come September 10th.
They are probably going to ask what all the fuss is about. The media industry has consolidated at a rapid pace with the likes of Bell, Rogers, Shaw, and Quebecor owning significant carrier as well as media assets. With one more company, Astral Media, assimilated into Bell – with a share of total audience just under the CRTC’s pain threshold, according to Bell – seriously, what’s the big deal, is what we surmise BCE’s folks will ask.
However, poring over Bell’s submission and some of the many interventions filed while viewing the ongoing publicity war between the factions of yes, no, and somewhere in between, I’m imagining myself up on that Commission panel and I’ve got a few questions of my own for BCE:
1. When counting English Television audience share of the new, combined Bell-Astral, why should the CRTC change its practice from counting only the Canadian-owned channels to counting all English-language channels, including the U.S. networks and specialties? Is it just so the level of viewership falls under 35% instead of surpassing 40% as those who have lined up in opposition to the deal have insisted is a real problem? Why should we count CNN, Spike, TLC and others?
2. And for that matter, why shouldn’t we count the audience share of co-owned assets Historia, Series+ and Teletoon/Télétoon, just because they aren’t 100%-owned. They contribute to the value of the company and in the case of Historia and Series+, are run by Astral. Why should they be left aside when counting viewers and judging the value of the transaction and the benefits package?
3. If we decide to maintain the status quo and count just the English Canadian channels AND that of the co-owned assets, bringing your audience share north of our pre-set danger zone, are you prepared to divest certain assets, such as the CTV Two network, which you have threatened to walk away from on numerous occasions anyway – and/or your 50% of Teletoon – so that your level of viewership in English Canada drops to a share we are more comfortable with? Would Bell be prepared to divest all of Astral’s English television assets, as proposed by Rogers Communications?
4. Please explain why in the world $40 million worth of benefits money coming from a purchase of a pay-TV and radio company should be directed to building out broadband in the far north by Northwestel? We realize prior Commission panels let both yourselves and Shaw Communications direct some of prior benefits package spending to building out digital television infrastructure and you are trying to couch this shift of monies to the North as something similar. But it’s not television. It’s broadband.
While we let Shaw, for example, use many millions to build DTV transmitters they said would not get built without those funds, it was about digital OTA TV, where there is no competitive retail market like there is with wireless and broadband. This is far different because the likes of SSi Group, Iristel and Ice Wireless are trying to build a competitive marketplace in retail wireless and broadband in the far north. Can you explain how this $40 million won’t distort the market there and why you are trying to use the benefits from this media acquisition to help fund necessary upgrades this Regulator has already demanded your company perform?
5. Let’s talk exclusive content. Some the intervenors have accused Bell Media of offering “outrageous” contract terms when it came to access to mobile content such as the Olympics by other wireless providers. Can you please discuss those terms and explain why Bell Media doesn’t think them to be outrageous – and how those terms do not contradict our policy on vertical integration?
Further to that question, other intervenors claim Bell has been slow, or outright denied other BDUs access to the non-linear rights of popular programming for showing on video on demand or mobile platforms. Is this true? How would you characterize those negotiations and how can you ensure Canadians will have access to popular content even if they are not Bell TV or Bell Mobility subscribers? Besides, Bell has stated consistently it wants its content to be available as widely as possible, but its advertising during the Olympics made it quite clear that mobile content was available “only from Bell”. Can you reconcile those two statements for us?
What would you ask Bell if you were a CRTC commissioner? Send us what you want to ask. We’ll run them if they're good questions – and we’ll keep your name out of it if you want. Send 'em in to email@example.com.