Don't let Bell get too big: Competitors
Pierre Karl Peladeau, president and CEO of Quebecor. (PHILIPPE-OLIVIER CONTANT/QMI Agency)
Casting Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) as an insatiable media colossus, three of Canada's smaller media companies have banded together to raise opposition to Bell's $3.4-billion takeover of Astral Media.
"This deal carries a huge risk to consumers," said Pierre Karl Peladeau, president and CEO of Quebecor, which owns Sun Media. "The balance of power will shift in the marketplace away from the consumer and toward one giant, communication conglomerate."
Peladeau joined with executives from competitors Cogeco and Eastlink to launch the website www.saynotobell.ca, which urges consumers to ask the CRTC and the Competition Bureau to reject the Astral takeover.
"History shows us that when too much power is concentrated in one company it means higher prices and poorer choices," Lee Bragg, CEO of Halifax-based Eastlink, said.
If BCE were allowed to swallow Astral, it would gain 12 specialty channels, eight pay-TV stations and 84 radio stations. It already owns CTV, 30 specialty channels and 33 radio stations.
The Quebecor-Cogeco-Eastlink coalition warns a merger would leave almost half of Canada's English radio audience in the hands of one company, and BCE would dwarf its nearest television competitors by securing 38% of the national TV market.
When BCE announced the deal in March, president and CEO George Cope said the takeover would be "more than levelling the playing field" for it in Quebec.
Peladeau, however, says the deal would tilt the playing field nationally and leave too much content in the hands of a distributor whose "business practices do not meet the competitive standard" of a company with a CRTC licence.
Bell recently lost a lawsuit over piracy of Quebecor's signals and has faced complaints it plays favourites with its channels over those of its competitors.
The CRTC has scheduled a hearing for the Bell-Astral deal on Sept. 10.