Bell Media asks CRTC for specialty category changes

The media co is willing to forgo its must-carry status for eight channels in preparation for the upcoming Let's Talk TV changes.
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Bell Media is willing to forgo its must-carry status for eight specialty channels ahead of the introduction of pick-and-pay next March in order to ready itself for the new competitive market.

The media co has requested the licences for eight of its Category A channels be converted to Category B offerings. It affects Bravo!, The Comedy Network, Discovery Channel, E!, MTV (Canada), M3, Much and Space. 

The requested change was planned for the channels’ 2017 licence renewal process, but with genre protection dropped in the wake of Let’s Talk TV, the conversion was expedited, the company noted in its application.

At issue are exhibition requirements for Canadian content. With genre protection dropped and a new playing field levelled, Bell Media’s request to change its licence categories will see it meet a reduced standard for Canadian content exhibition. However, the media co has stated that because each of the requested channels has more than one million subscribers, each would continue to contribute to the Bell Media Group at its historic Canadian programming expenditure level.

Current exhibition requirements for Category A services are set based on the conditions of licence, with most requiring 50% of broadcasted content in the day and night be Canadian. The disparity of licence conditions between channels was noted by the media caster, pointing to Discovery’s requirement to devote 60% of the broadcast week to Canadian programs and 50% of the evening broadcast period, while Shaw Media’s History has requirements that are 10% less.

It notes that Category B channels have a standard requirement across the board, 35% for both the evening broadcast period and overall.

Both Category A and Category B channels will have an overall exhibition requirement of 35% when licences are renewed in August 2017, but pick-and-pay will have already been phased in for over a year at that time.

The media company argues that gap will hinder its ability to compete in the changing specialty landscape. 

“With BDUs mandated to introduce more flexible packaging options for consumers by March 2016, continuing to require specialty Category A services to operate with high exhibition requirements will greatly limit these services’ ability to evolve to meet audience needs and successfully compete without genre protection,” according to the supporting document.

“The inability of certain discretionary services to manage the transition to a more competitive licensing and carriage environment could set them back significantly and the damage could be permanent,” according to Bell Media’s request to the CRTC. “The success of these services in the long term should be dictated by consumer demand based on the quality of the programming on offer, not regulatory engineering – clearly, a level playing field is needed.”

If granted the change to Category B services, Bell Media’s channels would forego their must-carry status.

“By converting the services to specialty Category B services, Bell is willing to assume the risk of no longer having guaranteed carriage for these services,” according to the media co’s note to the CRTC. “However, we believe these services will have the best opportunity to succeed if they are able to accomplish what the Commission has set out to do with the elimination of genre protection, which is to give services greater flexibility to create and acquire programming that will best serve their audiences.”

Interventions and comments on Bell Media’s application to change eight of its specialty channels from Category A to Category B are being accepted until August 19.