Canada has the most concentrated TV industry ownership of any G8 country, and the second most concentrated TV audience, says a new report that aims to measure the impact of the proposed Bell Canada-Astral Media merger.
The report from Boston-based Analysis Group reports that 81.4 per cent of the value of Canada’s TV distribution (cable and satellite) market is controlled by companies that also create content, such as broadcasters and production companies.
That is by leaps and bounds the highest percentage in the G8. The second-place country, Japan, has only 37.5 per cent of its TV distribution controlled by content creators. In the U.S., it’s 23.1 per cent.
While observers have long argued Canada has among the most concentrated media in the world, so far there had been little empirical evidence to prove the point.
The Analysis Group's report notes the degree of media concentration is increasingly rapidly in Canada. As recently as 2009, only 40 per cent of the TV distribution market was in the hands of content creators, the report states — less than half the percentage today.
“The Canadian media sector is highly concentrated in comparison with other G8 countries, and the level of vertical integration exceeds any other G8 country,” the report notes.
But Canada is only second-worst when it comes to concentration of the TV audience. Canada’s largest media company, Bell Media, controls 28.6 per cent of the TV viewing market, according to the report. Italy’s largest broadcaster, Mediaset, controls 45 per cent of Italian viewership. (Italy’s Mediaset was founded and is still controlled by ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.)
If Bell Media gets regulatory approval to buy Astral, it will control 37.6 per cent of the TV viewing audience — still below Italy’s levels but higher than any other G8 country.
The Bell-Astral merger has brought the issue of media concentration in Canada to the forefront, after simmering on the back burner for decades.
A coalition of TV distributors launched a campaign last week to stop the merger, using data from the Analysis Group study to back up its argument that allowing the Bell-Astral merger would hurt consumers. However, some of the companies involved in that coalition, including Rogers Communications, are vertically integrated themselves, and contribute to the concentration of media ownership.
Consumer advocates worry about the impact of media concentration on diversity of opinion, and about fairness in business. For instance, when NBC bought U.S. cable provider Comcast several years ago, there were concerns that a TV distributor like Comcast would have reason to favour NBC content over that of other producers. News reports earlier this year indicated the U.S. Justice Department is now investigating Comcast and others over claims they may be limiting competition from Internet video providers.
In Canada, TV distributors like Bell, Rogers and Shaw also own cable and over-the-air TV channels.
Quebec consumers’ group Option Consummateurs recently urged regulators to block the Bell-Astral deal, saying it could lead to higher prices for entertainment for consumers. OpenMedia warned the merger could lead to “higher prices, tighter contracts, more disrespectful customer service, and greater potential for surveillance.”
For its part, Bell says its $3.8-billion merger with Astral will result in the “ramping up” of competition for TV viewers, and it expects the regulators responsible for approving the deal -- the CRTC and the Competition Bureau — will give it the go-ahead. However, some analysts say Bell will have to sell off some assets before regulators OK the merger.
The CRTC’s hearings into the matter open in September.
Check out how Canada compares on media concentration. (Text version below slideshow.)
Degree of Media Concentration in G8 Countries
Percentage represents value of TV distribution market (cable companies, satellite dish companies) controlled by companies that also create TV content (broadcasters, production companies).
8. Russia - 0%
7. Germany - 7.1%
6. United States - 23.1%
5. France - 27%
4. United Kingdom - 31%
3. Italy - 33%
2. Japan - 37.5%
1. Canada - 81.4%