Bell, Astral peg tangible benefits package at $174.7 M

The new application to the CRTC focuses heavily on increasing consumer choice, according to BCE president and CEO George Cope.
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Bell Media and Astral Media on Wednesday unveiled the details of the companies’ repackaged proposal for Bell to acquire Astral, including a proposed $174.64 million tangible benefits package.

The revised proposal also focuses heavily on how the $3.38 billion transaction, if approved, will benefit consumers and the Canadian broadcasting industry.

Version 2.0 of the application follows the CRTC in October rejecting BCE’s initial bid on the grounds that that proposal wouldn’t provide significant benefits to the Canadian broadcasting system and Canadian consumers.

“At the end of the day, BCE demonstrated clearly that the proposed transaction was good for BCE, but we were not persuaded that it was in the best interest of Canadians,” said CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais at the time.

The new application is about “raising the bar in consumer choice, programming innovation and industry competition,” said BCE and Bell Canada president and CEO George Cope in a statement.

“This new application to the CRTC clearly demonstrates the tremendous value the combination of these two all-Canadian media brands will mean for the Canadian public and their broadcasting industry.”

Bell and Astral are proposing to spend the $174.64 million in tangible benefits on new English- and French-language Canadian TV and film content, and initiatives for media training and consumer education of and participation in Canadian broadcasting.

Of the $124.5 million in TV benefits, the companies said they will spend 85% on indie on-screen productions, while $73.1 million will go towards French-language programming and $38.1 million to English-language programming.

The TV benefits spending will also include initiatives to engage consumers in Canadian broadcasting. Approximately 15%, or $18.69 million, will be invested in social benefits, the companies said. Bell proposes to increase its $3 million Broadcasting Participation Fund, which it established in 2012, by an additional $2 million. Another $2.73 million will be allocated to consumer education, $2.69 to media training and development, and $500,000 for the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

Also still present in the revised proposal is a strategy to create products and services that can compete with rival foreign OTT services like Netflix.

Bell Media president Kevin Crull in a statement said that the combined Bell-Astral entity will continue to develop services like Astral’s recently launched TMN Go and Bell Media’s TV Everywhere offerings.

“We’ve based our revised proposal closely on the range of feedback we’ve heard from consumers, and we’re ensuring that their direct participation in our industry will grow,” Crull said.

On the French-language side, the companies said the combined Bell-Astral entity would result in greater competition in the Quebec marketplace.

The proposed range of new French-language services includes Investigation, based on the Discovery TV franchise, in addition to content developed through Bell Media’s recently launched joint venture with Cirque du Soleil.

Of the French-language benefits spending,$43.65 million will be directed towards French-langauge programming. As well, $23.8 million will be allocated to feature film initiatives in the Harold Greenberg Fund. And $18.8 million will be directed to French-language projects, while $4 million will go towards creating a French-language Television Format Development Initiative for indie producers, directors, writer and actors.

In addition, $5 million will be directed to Telefilm’s Private Donation Fund and $4.9 million to French-language youth programming initiatives.

The companies said that following Bell’s divestiture of various Astral joint-venture TV services, the combined entity would result in 37.5% English-language TV viewership, and 23% French-language TV viewership.

Bell Media will retain eight Astral TV services and two rural OTA TV stations in B.C. (Dawson Creek’s CJDC and Terrace’s CFTK), and Astral’s interest in Viewer’s Choice Canada.

On the English language side, it will retain The Movie Network (which includes HBO Canada and TMN Encore), and the French-language SuperÉcran, CinéPop, Canal Vie, Canal D, VRAK TV, and Z Télé.

The new bid was cleared by the Competition Bureau earlier this week. The CRTC will hold hearings starting May 6.

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