Telus has joined the fight against the Bell-Astral merger, throwing its hat into the ring along with companies like Quebecor, Cogeco Cable and EastLink. The three cable operators had argued that the Bell-Astral merger, worth $3.38 billion, would put too much power in the bands of BCE Inc. and would increase costs to consumers.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, one of Canada’s largest consumer watchdog groups, has also joined the group.
“We do not believe the government should allow the deal to proceed,” David Fuller, chief marketing officer for Telus said. “There’s a significant list of people who are saying, ‘Guys, maybe we need to give our heads a shake; this market is getting too concentrated now where so few companies control so much of our media.’”
That “significant group of people” may have collaborated too late, as the Canadian telecommunications and broadcasting markets are nearly indistinguishable.
The market has been virtually fused, with CTV owned by Bell and Global owned by Shaw Communications. Rogers Communications, under its Rogers Media arm, owns Canada’s largest publishing company, 51 radio stations and several television stations. They also own the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team through the Rogers Blue Jays Baseball Partnership and have plans to share a controlling stake in Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment with Bell.
Bell’s move for Astral came just 11 months after they acquired CTV, Canada’s biggest television network. The Astral deal will give Bell control of a number of pay and specialty television networks, including The Movie Network and Teletoon.
Regulatory hearings are set to begin on September 10. For its part, Bell says that it will divest a minimum of 10 radio stations in order to fall in line with the deal’s requirements.
According to Telus, Bell will have 49.5 percent of the English-language television audience if the Astral deal goes through. Bell disagrees with their rival’s estimation, though, and claims that they’d “only” hold 33.5 percent.
The possibility also exists that the Competition Bureau could step in, even if the deal is given CRTC approval. The Bureau already has two open files on Bell, one for the merger and one for the civil branch. The civil branch is apparently concerned with Bell’s “conduct” since the CTV acquisition. These documents were filed in July and could prove pertinent to the Bell-Astral deal.
According to Telus and others involved, Bell forced demands and higher rates in order to gain continued access to the channels it’d acquired. Mobile rights and online access rights were “off the table,” but Bell has said that it’s meeting the CRTC’s requirements.