President and Chief Executive of Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) George Cope
Credits: REUTERS/MATHIEU BELANGER
In a statement released Wednesday, Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) pledged to "take on" Quebecor, the province's dominant media company, with the goal of "shaking up the communications industry."
If BCE merges with Quebec-based Astral Media, it will control 24% of French-language content in Quebec. That's less than the 30% controlled by Quebecor, a "long-dominant" Quebec media company, which owns QMI Agency and Sun Media.
Quebecor is one of a growing chorus of media and consumer groups opposed to the merger, which critics say will give BCE too much control over Canadian content nationwide.
If Bell swallows Astral, it would put 70 TV channels, about 100 radio stations and dozens of websites under one company's control.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre warns that as BCE grows, it gains more power to demand distributors include Bell-owned content in programming packages.
Telus warns Bell could hold almost half of Canada's English-language television audience share following the merger.
But Bell said its focus will be on boosting French-language programming in Quebec and offering an alternative to Quebecor.
"This new content funding committed by Bell-Astral will ensure much greater viewing choice for Quebec consumers in a media marketplace where true competition and new innovation is long overdue," said George Cope, CEO of BCE.
The statement -- which vows Bell will invest in Quebec charities, research and development -- comes a day after the publication of a national Sun Media story about the growing opposition to the Bell-Astral merger.
"Astral and Bell are both dedicated to growing and competing in the Quebec media marketplace. Now, the Astral team will have the resources and support of Bell to deliver the kind of expanded viewing choices and new ideas that Quebec consumers deserve," said Martine Turcotte, Bell's vice-chair in Quebec.