Canadians to CRTC: Bell Takeover of Astral is Bad for Canada
August 28, 2012 – Bell’s proposed takeover of Astral Media is bad for Canada. That’s the message being sent by the new, broad-based coalition of groups known as the Stop the Takeover Coalition.
The Coalition consists of a diverse mix of organizations—public interest groups, consumer groups, and cultural industry stakeholders—that have joined forces, based on a set of principles, to draw public attention to the risks of Bell’s expansion. The coalition is encouraging Canadians to join the campaign by sending a messaging to decision makers at http://StopTheTakeover.ca.
Some of the groups leading the coalition include grassroots citizen-engagment group OpenMedia.ca (the group behind the largest online campaign in Canadian history) and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC). They are joined by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), Canada Without Poverty and the CWP Advocacy Network, the Canadian Media Guild (which represents over 6,000 media workers, including those from CBC, Reuters, the Canadian Press, and Shaw Media), the Consumers’ Association of Canada, the Council of Canadians (Canada’s largest citizens’ group), the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of British Columbia (COSCO), and Québec-based consumer groups Option consommateurs and Union des consommateurs.
OpenMedia.ca Executive Director Steve Anderson explains the Coalition’s aim: “The CRTC now has no excuse. It’s abundantly clear that Bell’s proposed monopolistic takeover is bad for Canada, and Canadians know it.”
In March, Bell announced that it would seek to acquire Astral Media, and thus control a share of the broadcasting market in Canada that would be more than twice that of its largest competitor. This would create an unprecedented level of media concentration in this country, and lower Canada’s status from having one of the least competitive media systems in the industrialized world, to having the least competitive one (details below).
This could spell trouble for independent businesses seeking to compete, but more importantly, it could be the beginning of the end of real choice for Canadians.
Owning more media content creates an incentive for Bell to maximize profits by pushing content that it owns or restricting access to other content it can’t monetize – and it gives Bell control over the media content citizens consume, and delivery of daily communications.
“If Bell is allowed to control Astral’s content, Bell will to force higher prices and less choice on their customers and their competitor’s customers,“ says Janet Lo, PIAC Counsel. “If this takeover is allowed, prices and content will be offered only on Bell’s terms, and suppressing competition harms consumers.”
“With that type of size and concentration, consumers will face higher prices, less choices, less diversity of voices, and less quality,” said Robert Cazelais, Executive Director of Option consommateurs.
Anderson adds. “Canadians learning more and getting engaged are the strongest chance we have at pushing back against Bell’s takeover. We strongly encourage Canadians to make their voices heard at StopTheTakeover.ca.”
About the Stop the Takeover Coalition
The Stop the Takeover Coalition comprises public interest groups and industry players who are coming together, based on a set of common principles, to oppose the proposed takeover of Astral Media by Bell and to promote public engagement through the Stop the Takeover campaign. Learn more about the Coalition and its members at http://openmedia.ca/takeover/coalition.
PIAC is representing consumers in the process. On Aug. 9 the Public Interest Advocacy Centre filed these comments with the CRTC on Bell’s proposed acquisition of Astral Media.
Statistics and Background
Four large companies—Bell, Shaw, Rogers, and QMI—control 86 per cent of cable and satellite distribution, 70 per cent of wireless revenues, and 54 per cent of Internet Service Provider revenues.
A report from Boston-based Analysis Group reports that 81.4 per cent of the value of Canada’s TV distribution (cable and satellite) market is controlled by companies that also create content, such as broadcasters and production companies.
Canada currently has the second-highest level of cross-media ownership and vertical integration among 32 countries studied by researchers in the International Media Concentration Research Project (Columbia University). It will be the highest amongst these countries if the CRTC does not pull the plug on the Bell/Astral deal.
While concentration is slowly declining elsewhere, in Canada it is rising sharply; the Bell/Astral deal will compound the trend.
Astral products currently represent Bell’s largest single content cost. Astral owns 22 television services and 84 radio stations, many of which currently compete with Bell’s 30 specialty channels and 35 radio stations. This includes Super Écran, The Movie Network and HBO Canada, and top specialty brands such as Canal Vie, Canal D, VRAK TV, MusiquePlus, Teletoon, Family and Disney Junior.
The Bell/Astral deal is valued at $3.38-billion.