Telecom Giant Bell Re-Attempts Takeover of Astral Media Assets

Bell refuses to listen to public opinion and continues to consolidate control over Canadian communications rather than compete

March 6, 2013 – The CRTC has called a public hearing in response to Bell—Canada’s largest telecom and media conglomerate—once again attempting to take over Astral Media. The CRTC denied Bell’s original proposal in Fall 2012, as it found that this concentration of power would not benefit the public.

Despite the fact that their initial proposal was denied by both the CRTC and Canadians across the country, the two companies have come back with a “watered-down” version of the deal. Even with fewer of Astral assets being acquired, however, citizens’ group OpenMedia.ca is saying that this deal is bad for Canadians and our digital economy.

OpenMedia.ca Executive Director Steve Anderson said today, “Canadians have made their position very clear: We oppose Bell getting bigger. We're glad they have been forced to walk back their previous ridiculous proposal to takeover of Canadian media, but Canadians just don't want Big Telecom getting bigger.”

Anderson went on to say, “Even with Bell’s manipulative spin, the public still opposes the merger. Big Telecom can dress up this deal any way they want, but Canadians know a bad deal when they see one. If anything, Canadians want old Big Telecom giants to be split up to create a level playing field with affordable telecom choices and innovation. Other countries like the UK have already done so with impressive results.”

OpenMedia.ca is a founding member of the Stop the Takeover Coalition that formed in opposition to Bell’s initial takeover of Astral assets.

Canada's media system is already one of the most highly concentrated in the industrialized world, and Canadians pay higher prices for limited content choices and poor service.

After denying Bell’s first application for a takeover, CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais stated in a release: “It would have placed significant market power in the hands of one of the country’s largest media companies. We could not have ensured a robust Canadian broadcasting system without imposing extensive and intrusive safeguards, which would have been to the detriment of the entire industry.”

OpenMedia.ca agrees with the CRTC Chair and this assessment remains true under the current proposal.

Canadians can learn more about the Bell/Astral merger and take action at http://StopTheTakeover.ca.

About OpenMedia.ca

OpenMedia.ca is a grassroots organization that safeguards the possibilities of the open and affordable Internet. The group works towards informed and participatory digital policy.

Through campaigns such as StopTheMeter.ca and StopSpying.ca, OpenMedia.ca has engaged over half-a-million Canadians, and has influenced public policy and federal law.

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.

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. Learn more about the Coalition and its members at http://openmedia.ca/takeover/coalition.

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Contact

Lindsey Pinto
Communications Manager, OpenMedia.ca
1-778-238-7710
lindsey@openmedia.ca

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 original Bell/Astral deal was valued at $3.38-billion.

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