MONTREAL - Bell is heading to the CRTC for a second time in hopes that its plan to sell off the majority of Astral Media's TV channels will be enough to appease the regulator's worries its takeover of the media company would not be good for Canadians.
A new round of public hearings on Bell's revised plan to buy Astral starts Monday after the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission killed the plan last fall, citing concerns it would restrict choice and raise prices for consumers.
Janet Lo, legal counsel with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said the revised deal isn't all that different from Bell's first attempt to win approval to buy Astral.
"For us, it raises the same concerns for competition as the first transaction," said Lo, who will appear before the CRTC at the hearings.
This time, parent company BCE Inc. will keep just eight of Astral's 25 specialty channels, including premium Movie Network, and 77 of its 84 radio stations.
Lo said the deal still raises questions about whether independent broadcasters will be able to provide the diversity of voices that Canadians expect.
"We are continually concerned by media concentration and what that means for independent producers being viable, what that means for Canadians being able to access content they want to pick and pay for, and whether a very concentrated market means less competition for consumers."
Bell (TSX:BCE) and Astral Media Inc. (TSX:ACM.A) have pointed out it will control less of the market under the revised deal.
"Even after the sale of half of Astral's French-language specialty TV services, Bell Media would increase its viewing share in this market to 22.6 per cent — still less than the 31 per cent viewing share enjoyed by Quebecor, but a significant enhancement to market competition nevertheless,'' Bell Media president Kevin Crull said recently.
Telecom consultant Eamon Hoey said the question remains whether the acquisition is in the public's best interests.
"It's going to take some guts for the CRTC to turn it down," said Hoey, managing partner at Hoey Associates Management Consultants Inc. in Toronto.
Media concentration is still a big concern, he said.
"It's only moving the pieces of chess around the board," Hoey added.
Cogeco Cable Inc. has said it's still opposed to the deal, arguing that consumers will have higher costs and less choice.
Bell has said it wants to buy Astral to put content from its television channels and radio stations across traditional TV screens, smartphones, tablets and laptops, and to compete with foreign online TV and movie services like Netflix.
Bell already has approval of its revised deal from the federal Competition Bureau to keep eight of Astral's TV channels including the Movie Network, which includes HBO Canada, and TMN Encore as well as the French-language SuperEcran, CinePop, Canal Vie, Canal D, VRAK TV, and Z Tele.
Corus Entertainment Inc. (TSX:CJR.B) has approval from the Competition Bureau to buy the remaining half of Teletoon and other specialty TV interests from Astral.
In addition, Bell said it will also sell the English-language Family including Disney Junior English and Disney XD services, and the French Disney Junior, Musimax and MusiquePlus services.
When the CRTC killed the deal last October, commissioner Jean-Pierre Blais said had the regulator allowed the deal, BCE would have controlled almost 45 per cent of the English TV viewership and almost 35 per cent of the French.
As well, it would have become the largest radio station operator in Canada and would have controlled over half of TV pay and specialty services.
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Canada's 7 Media Giants
Postmedia - $1.1 Billion
Postmedia was born in 2010, when the bankrupt Canwest media chain was broken up. A consortium led by then-National Post CEO Paul Godfrey bought Canwest's newspaper assets, including the National Post, Ottawa Citizen and Calgary Herald, as well as both English-language dailies in Vancouver.<br> <br> Pictured: Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey<br> <br> <em>*Number denotes latest available revenue figure, for parent company</em>
Torstar - $1.48 Billion
Torstar's flagship property is the Toronto Star, Canada's largest newspaper. It also owns the Metroland chain of weeklies and the internationally popular Harlequin, publisher of pulp romances.<br> <br> Pictured: The Toronto Star building in downtown Toronto.<br> <br> <em>*Number denotes latest available revenue figure, for parent company</em>
Shaw - $4.74 Billion
Western Canadian cable TV giant Shaw entered the media big leagues with the 2010 purchase of Canwest's broadcasting assets, including the Global TV network. The company was founded by Jim Shaw and is still controlled by his family.<br> <br> Pictured: CEO Brad Shaw<br> <br> <em>*Number denotes latest available revenue figure, for parent company</em><br> <br> <em>CORRECTION: An earlier version of this slide stated that Shaw had purchased Canwest's newspaper assets. It only purchased the broadcasting assets. The company had backed out of an earlier attempt to buy three CTV stations.</em>
Quebecor - $9.8 Billion
Founded by Pierre Peladeau and run by his son, Pierre-Karl Peladeau, Quebecor owns the Sun Media and Osprey newspaper chains, as well as cable provider Videotron, Quebec TV network TVA, and a number of publishing houses.<br> <br> Pictured: Pierre-Karl Peladeau<br> <br> <em>*Number denotes latest available revenue figure, for parent company</em>
Rogers - $12.1 Billion
Founded by Ted Rogers, Rogers Communications is a major player in cable TV and wireless services. The company controls Rogers Media, which operates 70 publications, 54 radio stations and a number of TV properties including CityTV and the Shopping Channel.<br> <br> Pictured: CEO Nadir Mohamed<br> <br> <em>*Number denotes latest available revenue figure, for parent company</em>
Woodbridge (Thomson Reuters) - $13.8B
Woodbridge is the holding company owned by the billionaire Thomson family. It controls 55 per cent of Thomson Reuters, one of the world's largest news services organizations. Woodbridge's revenue is not reported, but Thomson Reuters reported revenue of $13.8 billion in 2011.<br> <br> Pictured: The late Kenneth Thomson, company chairman, in Toronto in 2003.<br> <br> <em>*Number denotes latest available revenue figure, for parent company</em>
Bell Canada (BCE) - $18.1 Billion
BCE is one of Canada's largest corporations, and owns telephone, Internet and TV infrastructure. Its subsidary Bell Media purchased the CHUM group of radio stations in 2006, and Astral Media in 2012. The company also controls CTV, making it a dominant media player in Canada.<br> <br> <em>*Number denotes latest available revenue figure, for parent company</em>