Telus tells CRTC that Bell shouldn’t be allowed to buy Astral without safeguards

September 13, 2012  |  Canadian Press  |  Comments

Telus told a CRTC hearing Thursday that Bell‘s proposed $3.4 billion acquisition of Astral Media will put too much power in one group and there would need to be additional safeguards to prevent market abuse.

Telus is the latest rival of Bell and its parent BCE tell the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that Bell’s acquisition of Astral’s television, radio and advertising business shouldn’t be allowed or, if it is, with conditions and restrictions.

“The point of all this is that Bell is already big, it has clear incentive and opportunity to behave anti-competitively to the detriment of consumers and it is clearly making it difficult for the commission to manage compliance,” Ann Mainville-Neeson, director of broadcast regulation at Telus.

“Adding significant new assets to Bell’s content portfolio through approval of this acquisition of Astral will only make matters worse,” Mainville-Neeson said Thursday at a regulatory hearing in Montreal.

There has been a long list of companies and groups that have come out against the proposed acquisition of Montreal-based Astral Media by BCE Inc., which owns telecom giant Bell Canada, the CTV television network, the former Chum radio stations and numerous specialty TV channels, as well as online sites for them all.

Bell has countered those arguments by saying it needs to be large enough to compete with global companies, especially in newer digital forms of media that relay content to mobile phones, tablets and other devices.

It announced at the open of this week’s hearings that Astral would enable it to create a competitor to the U.S.-based Netflix online video service, which delivers movies and television programs for a monthly subscription fee.

The Astral deal would continue a years-long trend of increasingly concentrated ownership of Canadian media companies, which has resulted in a dwindling number of rivals competing in numerous fields that were formally separate.

Telus – still primarily a telecom company with relatively few media assets – said Thursday that Bell has already refused or made it difficult to acquire content rights for multiple platforms, such as mobile devices, computers and broadcast.

It said it wants to be able to negotiate rights for programming for all platforms without multiple negotiations at multiple prices.

“It’s really essential that we get all of these rights at one price,” said Richard Stursberg, senior adviser on media and entertainment strategy for Telus

Major players Rogers and Quebecor have also come out against the deal, while Calgary’s Shaw Communications supports it.

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