Slim Vanaselja, CFO of Bell, George Cope, President and CEO of Bell and Ian Greenberg, President and CEO of Astral, in announcing the aquisition of Astral Media Inc., March 16, 2012 in Montreal, Quebec.
Credits: TZARA MAUD/QMI AGENCY
Rogers executives told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission hearing into the deal that cable bills will rise if Bell's parent company is allowed to keep its TV holdings while adding Astral's assets.
Susan Wheeler, Rogers' vice-president of regulatory affairs, said Bell is no longer behaving like a content provider.
She said Bell should make its channels available to everyone, without negotiation, if the Astral deal is approved.
Wheeler added that Bell can't be trusted to build a vertically integrated conglomerate because customer costs will rise.
"CTV programming has become a tool for Bell to gain an advantage over its competitors by raising their costs and preventing them from offering new and innovative content to Canadian consumers," Wheeler said Wednesday. "Once it gets Astral, Bell will transform an important programming partner into a rival."
Wheeler says Bell is hindering Rogers' plan to offer content on the maximum number of platforms.
Her colleague David Purdy, senior vice-president of content at Rogers, said Bell routinely derails negotiations on broadcast rights for up to 18 months.
Meanwhile, Purdy says, Bell retains exclusivity over its own content in order to capture telecom market share.
"We'll never be able to launch something before Bell does because of the control it holds over its content," he told the hearing Wednesday.
He said it would be impossible for users to watch Bell-owned channels live on an iPad or through video on demand.
Rogers says it will offer 170 hours of Astral content next year, along with 80 hours of Shaw programming and 25 hours from the CBC. Bell won't be available at all.
Purdy added that the acronym KISS (keep it separate, sucker) is a common joke around Rogers offices in reference to Bell's practices.
The BCE-Astral deal did have its supporters on Wednesday.
The CRTC heard from Alain Simard, whose company Spectra produces several large events including the Montreal International Jazz Festival.
Simard said the deal "is in the interest of Quebec cultural industries" because groups such as Spectra need integrated telecom companies to distribute their programming across multiple platforms.
The CRTC will rule on the proposed $3.4-billion deal next month.
Montreal-based BCE is Canada's largest telecom company and its multimedia division, Bell Media, owns 28 television stations and 30 specialty channels, notably CTV and TSN. The company also owns 33 radio stations and dozens of websites, including the Sympatico.ca portal.
Astral, also based in Montreal, founded The Movie Network in 1984 and now owns several pay and specialty television channels as well as conventional and satellite radio stations.