Another website launches to fight Bell-Astral deal

Bell will have another online-based petition to deal with when it seeks approval of its acquisition of Astral from the CRTC and Competition Bureau this fall. OpenMedia.ca has launched StopTheTakeover.ca. OpenMedia.ca describes itself as “a grassroots organization that safeguards the possibilities of the open and affordable internet.” The website joins SayNoToBell.ca, which launched in early August by a group […]

Bell will have another online-based petition to deal with when it seeks approval of its acquisition of Astral from the CRTC and Competition Bureau this fall.

OpenMedia.ca has launched StopTheTakeover.ca. OpenMedia.ca describes itself as “a grassroots organization that safeguards the possibilities of the open and affordable internet.”

The website joins SayNoToBell.ca, which launched in early August by a group led by Cogeco Cable, Eastlink Communications, and Quebecor.

According to a report on the Globe and Mail’s website, OpenMedia launched its own effort because it “didn’t feel comfortable lining up with corporate titans such as Quebecor Inc. and Cogeco inc., which oppose the deal because of their business interests.”

OpenMedia says the Bell-Astral deal will affect most of the country—anyone who watches TV, uses the internet or owns a cellphone. If the deal goes through it would give Bell “a stranglehold over the media content we consume and delivery of our daily communications,” claims OpenMedia.

The petition, which will be directed to the CRTC and Competition Bureau as well as Industy Minister Christian Paradis and Heritage Minister James Moore, says Bell’s “accumulation of indispensable content brands….will further enable and incentivize Bell to restrict Canadians’ telecom, news and media choices.”

Concerns about an Astral-Bell merger surfaced as soon as the deal was announced in March. However, more than a few observers noted the new company would actually serve as a counter-balance to the powerful Quebecor, which dominates in Quebec. Its media assets include the market-leading TVA network and newspaper and magazine properties.

In an e-mail interview with Marketing after the SayNoToBell campaign began, Bell Canada spokesperson Jacqueline Michelis said the Bell-Astral deal intensifies competition to consumers’ benefit, particularly in Quebec.

“We’re actually leveling the playing field with the long-dominant media company in Quebec—Quebecor—and that clearly has our competitor concerned,” she said. “There’s no better proof of that than today’s efforts by our rivals.”

Michelis said the transaction meets all of the CRTC’s rules regarding media ownership. The combined Bell Media/Astral Media entity will boast 33.5% of English TV viewing and 24% of French, she said, both of which are within the CRTC threshold of 35%.

“It’s important to note that even after the Bell-Astral transaction, our largest competitor in Quebec—Quebecor—retains a significantly larger French-language viewership. They’ll still be largest in the market, versus Bell-Astral’s 24%, but with a less overwhelmingly dominant position,” said Michelis.

She also dismissed as “silly” the suggestions that Bell would restrict content. “Bell Media is in the business of providing content to [cable companies] like these and other TV providers,” she said. “Our business depends on it, consumers want it, so we work to make content as widely available as possible across multiple platforms. In fact, Quebecor buys both Bell Media TV and now mobile TV content from us, and we buy content from them. We obviously don’t see that changing.”

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