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Catherine Hart


Is Bell Taking Over Astral to Get Millions in Public Subsidies?

Posted: 05/07/2013 5:26 pm

Last year, telecom giant Bell unleashed a new $3.4B plan to take control of Astral Media, one of Canada's largest media companies. Canada has one of the most highly concentrated media systems in the industrialized world, and this deal would only make this situation worse by giving Bell a monopolistic share of the media market. Now, it seems that the takeover would also give Bell millions in public funding from the Canada Media Fund (CMF), making the deal bad for Canadians on all possible fronts.

The CMF provides broadcasters with government funding to promote new and innovative Canadian content in a way that levels the playing field and reflects the rapidly changing media landscape. In order to support production in television and digital media, broadcasters are allocated specific amounts based on past performance.

For the 2013-2014 period, Bell has been allocated the second highest share of all the broadcasters, at almost $32.6 million. Now it looks like if the Bell-Astral deal goes ahead, the $5.6 million in CMF subsidies currently set aside for Astral Media will be added to Bell's already full pockets. This means that rather than being used to encourage media innovation, a large chunk of CMF funding is going to help Bell further cement its power over Canada's media system.

The proposed takeover brought a lot of attention to the problems of "vertical integration" in the run-up to the CRTC hearing last year. Owning more of our media system gives Bell a stranglehold over the content we consume and the delivery of our daily communications. When one company owns the medium and the message, there is a strong profit incentive to push content that it owns, or restrict access to other content it doesn't control.

Canadians have, en masse, voiced their opposition through the StopTheTakeover.ca petition and the CRTC has denied the deal once already, sending a clear message that Bell had not shown the takeover to be in the public interest or of benefit to the Canadian broadcasting system. Undeterred, Bell is now trying again -- even trying to unilaterally change Canada's broadcasting rules -- and, after making some tweaks to their original takeover deal, is re-applying to the CRTC.

The hearings for this second attempt start today, and the new "watered down" version of deal doesn't look any better.

Canadians have spoken out against the deal, calling for Big Telecom/Media giants to be split up, to create a level playing field with affordable choices and room for innovation. But if Bell gets control of Astral the opposite will happen, with the media giant obtaining an even larger share of the broadcasting market and creating excessive concentration of Canadian media and communications assets.

Bell is pursuing an outdated business model that reduces customer choice, forces subscribers to pay for content they don't want, and banks millions in taxpayer-funded subsidies. It seems that Bell's priority is getting as much money out of Canadians as possible, without any consideration of what citizens actually want.

On the issue of Bell's takeover so far, the CRTC has been on the side of Canadians and has emphasized that its top priority is to "put Canadians at the centre of their communications system." But we need to ensure that they know we're still paying attention, and that we won't put up with even more of Canada's key media assets going to Bell.

Let the CRTC know that we won't stand for Bell's shameless cash-grab. We won't let Big Media restrict Canadians' telecom, news, and media choices.

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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>