CRTC told to hang up on Astral deal
Aug 14, 2012 / 3:48 pm
Bell would have too much control of English-language TV content and consumers would end up with high prices if the telecom company is allowed to purchase Astral Media, says telecommunications competitor Telus (TSX:T).
The $3.4-billion purchase of Montreal-based Astral, along with Bell's ownership in the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment TV assets, and its stake in joint venture assets, such as Teletoon, would give Bell 49.5 per cent share of the English-language television audience, Telus said Tuesday.
"The bottom line is more concentration equals fewer choices and prices go up," said Joe Natale, Telus's chief commercial officer.
"So half of the content in English Canada on the dial would be controlled, managed and dictated by BCE," he said from Toronto.
Natale used the example of BCE's acquisition of the rest of the CTV assets it didn't already own, saying the fees to distribute TSN have already gone up.
"When you've got that kind of concentrated power you can do things like withhold evolution to certain channels and signals as a result."
Telus is supporting a coalition comprised of Quebecor (TSX:QBR.B), Cogeco (TSX:CGO) and Eastlink and has filed a submission against the acquisition by BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) to the CRTC.
Natale said if the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission doesn't deny the acquisition, safeguards need to be put into place to ensure that consumers have access to the content on not only their televisions, but their smartphones, computers and tablets.
The deal also needs approval from the Competition Bureau of Canada.
Astral owns radio stations as well as specialty channels and pay-TV networks, including The Movie Network and HBO Canada.
BCE has said it expects the deal will be completed in the second half of the year.
Bell has proposed tangible benefits valued at $200 million to help support the country's broadcasting industry in its effort to obtain the federal broadcast regulator's approval for the Astral deal. The payment of tangible benefits is a condition of CRTC approval.
The company has also said it will need to sell 10 radio stations in five markets, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa-Gatineau and Winnipeg, to get the green light from the CRTC.
The proposed benefits package includes $96 million for the development and production of Canadian programming and $61 million to help support, promote and develop Canadian musical talent and to assist community radio and other initiatives.
The deal also includes $40 million to help make Canadian programming more widely available in the North through the extension of new broadband services, and $3.5 million to raise money and awareness to help combat mental health issues.
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