Bell snacked on CTV and started Bell Media as a result. This was one of the critical lead-offs to what would be a total transformation of company policy under George Cope. Cope was put in the leadership role at BCE Inc. in 2008 and has wasted little time in taking the major telecommunications company into territory that really is “all about media.”
Along with owning CTV (28 standard TV stations and 30 specialty channels), BCE Inc. has its fingers in the Montreal Canadiens with a minority stake in the franchise. It has also joined forces with Rogers Communications to buy a fair chunk of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And there’s also the 32 or so radio stations. And 35 percent of Dome Productions. And so on.
Now Cope’s company has its beady sights set on Astral Media, a Montreal-based company that will give Bell access to a load of French language radio programming in Quebec and, yes, more television channels, including the Movie Channel, HBO Canada and Family.
According to some, Bell could hit a regulatory hurdle that could trip up the Astral deal. The CRTC has what’s known as a common ownership policy, a regulation that was put in place in 1998 to limit just how many radio stations could be owned by the same company. In large markets, companies can have no more than two AM and two FM stations in the same language in said market. For Bell to clear this deal, they’ll probably have a dump a station or two from the contract. That probably won’t stop them.
So Bell clearly is bent on a strategy of consuming whatever juicy goodies arrive in its proverbial path, that much is clear, but what does that mean for Canadian media consumers?
Essentially, the Bell/Astral deal means that the telecommunications and broadcasting lines become even more blurred than they already are. It helps give Bell a foothold in Quebec. And it continues to solidify Canada’s telecommunications climate as an oligopoly with Blob-like tendencies.
Astral is (or was) the fifth largest television operator in the country and is (or was) the second largest radio station operator in the country. Bell already lumbers over Astral like a blubbering giant, owning more media properties than it knows what to do with. In this case, it’s a case of “me hungry, me eat” as Cope devours another smaller contender.
The deal would give BCE Inc. 40 percent of the pay and specialty TV market, 34.3 percent of the entire Canadian television spectrum and a quarter of all radio station revenues. That puts the media “Big Four” of Bell, Shaw Communications, Rogers, and QMI in charge of 90 percent of the pay and specialty TV market and 85 percent of the television market combined. The landscape of Canadian media outlets, already about as diverse as a Republican National Convention, looks dismal indeed.