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Day 3 of the Bell-Astral hearing saw a series of cable companies, creator representatives and other individual groups present their view of the proposed merger to the CRTC.
Of the cable companies, both Eastlink and Cogeco underlined their opposition to the proposed transaction. Eastlink emphasized their challenges in negotiating commercially reasonable terms for Bell Media’s multi-platform rights, as well as Bell’s imposition of incredibly high rates and restrictive packaging requirements. The company also highlighted the difficulty of being a smaller company with little leverage, particularly in a dispute resolution process against a vertically-integrated entity such as Bell. The Commission spent a longer time engaging with Cogeco, who argued that many of the Commission’s concerns in denying the transaction last fall, including convergence becoming a hindrance to healthy competition, the threat to the availability of diverse programming, and the insufficiency of the vertical integration framework against a high level of market power, continued to apply to this newly proposed merger. It also elaborated on Bell’s incentive to favour its own distribution services. When asked about possible safeguards, both companies emphasized that it would be better to deny the transaction rather than to attempt to corral the behaviour of a larger Bell-Astral.
The Canadian Media Production Association asked the Commission to ensure that a substantial part of the tangible benefits would be committed to English-language theatrical films, particularly since Astral’s pay TV services were “at the heart of the transaction.” The Producers Roundtable of Ontario similarly echoed the need to support Canadian English-language films, noting the marked decrease in the number of Canadian films broadcast on conventional television. L’Association des producteurs de films et de télévision du Québec (APFTQ) wanted assurance that French-language programming decisions would continue to be made in Montreal and that Bell would be bound to commercial agreements between APFTQ and Astral.
Other groups, though not opposing the transaction, expressed concerns about the merger. The Documentary Organization of Canada exposed Bell’s inconsistent support for documentary programming, particularly during periods when tangible benefits funding ran out, and called for Bell to commit 20 to 25% of its incremental PNI programming expenditures to documentaries. On Screen Manitoba noted the loss of an independent broadcaster as a result of this transaction and called for an expectation that Bell’s proposed regional programming development offices would actually be effective in supporting regional development and production.
Finally, several individual groups such as Alyssa Reid, le Centre d’études sur les médias, the Diversity Emerging Music Collective and Vaxination informatique also appeared. Some supported the proposed merger, while others criticized a lack of consideration of cultural diversity in the media industry or expressed concerns about the harms of vertical integration.