By Greg O’Brien
MONTREAL – While one large, vertically integrated Canadian media and distribution company vehemently told commissioners why it opposes Bell’s Astral purchase another, Shaw Communications, went before the CRTC right after Quebecor to say it did not see any reason why the deal should be denied.
“Strong, efficient and diversified operators will enhance the system by providing consumer choice, value and innovation,” Shaw Communications president Peter Bissonnette told the panel Tuesday morning.
Vice-chair broadcasting Tom Pentefountas, however, wondered if a combined Bell-Astral was too big for Shaw – big enough to allow it to corner the market on movies and the top-rated American programming. Paul Robertson, the president of Shaw Media said he just doesn’t see that happening. “They are in a strong position… but in no way will they end up getting all the top shows,” he said.
Besides, in this business “Nobody knows nothing,” he added, meaning even the best programming executives can’t reliably pick hit shows. “By the time we get back to the office and figure out which ones are hits, everyone is surprised,” added Robertson.
But what about the many complaints from others that Bell is too difficult to deal with and abuses its market power? Bissonnette says it’s not something he has encountered. “We haven’t experienced that. Bell is big right now and we have had to negotiate with the for the distribution of their services and usually reasonable people with reasonable objectives,” can come to an agreement, he told reporters after his presentation.
When asked if he thought the fact Quebecor is opposing the deal and Shaw isn’t simply points to the fact Quebecor wants to protect its turf in Quebec, Bissonnette added: “That would be a natural conclusion. They’ve had dominance here and there’s another very large, very creative, very innovative company that’s coming in here, so the natural outcome of that is probably that customers will be attracted to that.”
During the company’s appearance before commissioners, Shaw executives talked about their own TV Everywhere strategy – similar to the one Bell announced Monday. Calling it Shaw Go, it would “ensure that our customers have access to the best linear and non-linear content on demand and on a variety of platforms,” said Shaw senior vice-president of planning Michael D’Avella. The service, like Bell’s, would require a BDU subscription so that only paying customers could use it.
“Our customers have told us if we could offer something… they’d have no need to go to Netflix,” said Bissonnette.
Company executives also asked the Commission to, if approving the deal, refrain from imposing any more rules on the vertically integrated Canadian companies. They already have to compete with unregulated global players making inroads in Canada – and the regs in place are already pretty strong, said Bissonnette.
“I can’t think of what venal sin we could commit that isn’t already provided for in the current rules,” he added.