DESPITE THE OPPOSITION to its planned purchase of Astral Media, Bell Canada remains steadfast that this deal is good for Canada and Quebec – and will foster innovation and competition to the benefit of Canadian media consumers.
In its reply comments submitted to the CRTC last week (the final paper stage before the public hearing in Montreal starting September 10th, Bell takes a hard line especially against those standing utterly opposed to its $3.4 billion purchase of the company which owns such brands as The Movie Network, Super Écran, HBO Canada, Family Channel, Virgin Radio, NRJ Radio, Rouge FM and others.
Calling the proposed transaction “entirely consistent with established Commission policy,” in its reply comments, Bell noted that it’s mostly the company’s BDU competitors who object to the deal – and they are using bad data to support their arguments. Besides, adds the company, the Commission’s recently minted Vertical Integration Framework (which Bell has never liked) is already “a new and extensive set of regulatory safeguards directed at the very issues that these competitors raise.”
Those BDU competitors, chiefly Quebecor, Cogeco and EastLink who launched the Say No To Bell ad campaign on August 7, are using “erroneous market share numbers” to back it up, said Bell which “do not reflect any sensible market share information, combine different languages, and leave some players out.
“The most preposterous of these was Telus, which claimed that the combined English-language viewing share would be 49.5% of the audience,” reads the Bell submission. “Telus' calculations were fraught with inconsistencies and errors, the oddest of which may have been to lump MLSE's services into Bell Media's, although the Commission's test excludes them, and then to peg MLSE's services at a viewing share of 5.2% of the audience — nearly 40 times their actual viewing share. Other parts of our competitors' submissions were devoted to arguing that, although the Commission has acted recently and decisively to lay the groundwork for exactly the kind of regulation they say is needed to prevent any competitive harm, the framework is either too new to trust or too slow to use.”
Besides, adds Bell, using audience share to decide market dominance is wrongheaded as that can change as quickly as popular programming fades from prominence. “Audience share for content can change quickly, depending on he popularity of a program or a change in the news cycle,” it reads (that said, CTV has been the clear ratings leader in news and entertainment for quite a number of years).
As well, adds the company, “Canadians can access audiovisual and audio content on more platforms, on more screens, and from more creators than ever before. YouTube has more hours of video content than CTV has aired since the beginning of television. Vevo plays far more music videos than MuchMusic, MusiquePlus, CMT, and AUX TV combined. The transaction is all about content over any platform consumers want. The transaction reflects BCE's view that, going forward, the way to win in the media business is to invest in outstanding content, which will deliver more benefits on more platforms to more consumers,” adds the submission.
And besides, this campaign against the deal is just an example of “regulatory gaming, rather than, for instance, investing the same budget in original content,” Bell asserts.
New CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais will certainly have his hands full in two weeks in Montreal.
- Greg O’Brien