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Bell-Astral 2 Hearing – Day 2

Day 2 of the CRTC Bell-Astral hearing began with a presentation from PIAC’s Janet Lo and John Lawford, who also appeared on behalf of the Consumers’ Association of Canada, the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of British Columbia, the National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation, and Option consommateurs. They were joined by Dr. Dwayne Winseck, Professor at Carleton University. The group highlighted their opposition to the transaction, disputing Bell’s claims that its deal would benefit consumers, and emphasized the negative repercussions of vertical integration on consumer choice, affordability, and flexibility.

Rogers also opposed the Bell-Astral transaction and asked the Commission to order Bell to divest The Movie Network if the deal were to be approved. Rogers stated that it did not oppose vertical integration, but that Bell’s acquisition of Astral would place the company in a position where it would have the incentive and the ability to exercise market power against other competitors. Rogers also differentiated between media consolidation (horizontal integration) and vertical integration, which would incentivize companies to favour their distribution services (TV, wireless, internet) when providing content.

Rogers was followed by several interveners representing musicians and creator groups, including Suzie McNeil, the Quebec English-language Production Council (QEPC), the Performing Arts Lodges of Vancouver (PAL), and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA). Some interveners such as the QEPC advocated for the need to support official language minorities and requested that at least 10% of the tangible benefits allocated to English production be spent in Quebec. Others such as ACTRA supported the transaction but expressed concern about media concentration and stressed the importance of preserving diversity of entertainment and scripted programming.

In the afternoon, Telus presented its case against the Bell-Astral merger, citing past and potential anti-competitive behaviour, the inadequacy of the vertical integration framework, and Bell’s sizeable control over television and radio advertising. The Commission pressed Telus about the dispute resolution process, which the company insisted was unable to provide quick, efficient solutions and which intensified any imbalance of power between the disputing parties. Telus also complained that Bell’s unreasonable terms encompassed not only pricing but packaging requirements, which would have compelled Telus to include TSN in its basic package.

The day closed with presentations from l’Alliance des producteurs francophones du Canada (APFC) and Youth eMage Jeunesse. APFC urged the Commission to commit a percentage of the on-screen tangible benefits to independent French-language production outside Quebec and to compel Bell to file an annual report detailing its tangible benefits expenses by genre, geographic region and language. Youth eMage Jeunesse underlined the need for youth expression and representation in the broadcasting system and requested that a portion of the tangible benefits be reserved for Youth eMage’s Virtual Studio for Youth project.

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