BCE's Astral purchase to hit Canadians' wallets, consumer group warns
Ian Greenberg, right, president and chief executive officer of Astral Media Inc., and George Cope, president and chief executive officer of Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), shake hands following a news conference in Montreal. (Photograph by: Christinne Muschi, Reuters files)
By Nicolas Van Praet July 13, 2012
MONTREAL — Quebec's largest consumer group is condemning BCE Inc.'s planned $3.4-billion purchase of entertainment company Astral Media Inc., saying the deal is "worrying" for cable and wireless customers.
Astral shareholders voted in favour of the transaction in late May but did not endorse a special $25-million payment to company founder Ian Greenberg. The deal still requires regulatory approval by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission as well as Canada's Competition Bureau.
Consumer group Option Consommateurs said Friday it believes a takeover of Astral by BCE would result in higher prices for Canadians.
"History shows us that this type of mega alliance brings nothing good for consumers," the group's managing director, Robert Cazelais, said in a statement. "In Canada, we pay much more than most other western countries for cell phone and cable service."
That view has been disputed. Some analysts suggest pricing for cable is competitive with other markets. Wireless prices, meanwhile, have come down in recent years.
Officials with BCE's Bell Media said Friday the Astral deal levels the playing field with Bell's largest competitor in Quebec, Quebecor Inc., which intensifies competition to the benefit of the consumer. And they noted that Bell has pledged $200-million in so-called "tangible benefit" contributions as part of the transaction, which would increase funds for French-language programming and in turn ensuring a greater choice for Quebec consumers in terms of tv, radio and digital content.
Astral owns 24 specialty channels and pay-tv networks in full or in part, including the Movie Network and Super écran in Quebec. Joining Bell would give the combined entity a significant share of specialty channel viewing.
Analysts at National Bank Financial say Bell believes its viewership share for the combined company for both English and French-language programming will fall below 35%, which should allow for a quicker CRTC review. The regulator's threshold for review is 35% to 45%, with no allowance for a company to own more than that.
Programming offered on mobile devices is another potentially contentious issue. Astral plans on launching the popular HBO GO service later this year for smartphones, tablets and online. Some industry observers have said that under Bell's ownership, it may be difficult for rivals like Rogers and Telus Corp. to secure the service for their own subscribers.
The merged Bell-Astral would also own some 117 radio stations in Canada and control one of the country's largest billboard advertising networks. Bell has pledged to sell some radio stations to meet concentration limitations in certain markets.
"What will be the negotiating power left for consumers," Mr. Cazelais asked. "The strong concentration of players on the market offers few alternatives for those who want to change providers. It's worrying."
BCE shares rose 28¢ to $42.66 in trading Friday afternoon on the Toronto Stock Exchange. They've gained 6% since the Astral deal was announced.
American TV Networks' ratings are tanking, being eclipsed by SPANISH language broadcasts.
So it makes sense that "Canadian" Networks rush to Hollywood to import even MORE American programming instead of creating their OWN product that can, in turn, be sold to the US networks that will soon (VERY soon) be panicking and desperately searching for new product.
And these executives are actually PAID big bucks to think like this? How much are Canadian viewers expected to take before the TV sets are simply turned OFF? What will they do then?
But, you see, the network executives don't care. They receive bonuses regardless of whether their networks make money or not - whether anybody watches or not. It's all about money, and Canadian culture be dammed.
The CRTC was formed to encourage Canadian culture on TV and Radio; instead, by turning a blind eye to these corporate parasites, we are seeing the death of anything and everything Canadian.
I predict that CTV, Global and CITY will soon become mere affiliates of CBS, NBC, ABC and or FOX. At least then they will be honest with the viewer instead of pretending to be Canadian. They're not. :o
Those who are unaware are unaware that they are unaware. :'(