“OH, PEOPLE CAN COME UP with statistics to prove anything… 14% of people know that.” - Homer J. Simpson
Released this week, the 240-page mound of data known as the CRTC Communications Monitoring Report was reduced to a pair of press releases this week, one which purported that Bell buying Astral was a very bad and scary thing, and the other that Bell buying Astral was a very good and normal thing.
According to the Say No To Bell forces – the public relations effort put together by Quebecor, Cogeco and EastLink and co-ordinated by National Public Relations – the Commission report confirms “Bell Canada's English-language market share would amount to 39.7%. When Astral Media Inc.'s jointly-owned channels are included, Bell Canada's English-language market share would be 42.8%," reads a press release.
Is that correct? Sure, if you count a certain set of numbers. The Say No To Bell campaign is including Astral’s part-owned channels such as Teletoon/Télétoon and its other brands, Historia and Series+ as part of that market share for the second number. Sounds good in a press release, but the Commission has historically not counted the market share of part-owned assets when evaluating such transactions.
To boil it down further, Teletoon’s market share belongs to Teletoon, not 50% to Astral and 50% to Corus Entertainment, its other owner.
As well, the Say No forces did not mention the French language market at all because even post-merger, Quebecor would hold a good lead over Bell on French television audience share.
In response to the Say No To Bell release Tuesday, Bell Canada put out its own spin on the CRTC Communications Monitoring Report, saying on Wednesday that the very same set of numbers its foes were using as a club showed nothing at all nefarious and that the Regulator’s research confirms “that the combined Bell-Astral share of all TV viewing is indeed below the CRTC's 35% threshold,” said Bell’s chief regulatory officer Mirko Bibic.
Is that correct? Sure, if you count a certain set of numbers. Bell, as we have noted in prior analyses, wants the Commission to do something it hasn’t done in the past when calculating audience share – include all viewing by Canadians of American channels. If you count that, a Bell-Astral combination falls below the CRTC’s danger zone. (The Regulator’s has long held a view that any company with more than 35% audience share needs to be examined closely and traditionally has only counted share amidst all the other Canadian channels, not the various American ones available to us.)
Bell also wants to make sure that the CRTC doesn’t try to make this decision in a vacuum and the panel of commissioners keeps their eyes wide open to the entire global videoscape. Despite the fact the Commission does not regulate new media, “the report clearly demonstrates the highly competitive and fast-changing nature of the Canadian media marketplace. Not only are Canadians now able to make viewing choices from some 700 different TV channels, a rapidly increasing number are turning to Internet services from foreign providers for their viewing options,” said Bibic in the Bell release.
“Canadians have a growing array of viewing choices available to them and they aren't limited by national boundaries. That's the reality of TV today, which Canadian viewers themselves clearly understand even if certain Bell competitors do not… In this environment, a combined Bell-Astral helps ensure a strong Canadian media presence able to contend directly with both U.S. media and foreign Internet broadcasters, helping to sustain and grow the entire Canadian broadcasting industry.”
Perhaps. All depends which figures matter most when the hearing gets under way Monday in Montreal.
Cartt.ca will be at the hearing Monday morning providing regular reports, analysis and even tweets, if you’d like to follow editor and publisher @gregobr.