Bell Media on turning the legacy ship and shuttering OTA transmitters: CRTC hearings

The media co's representatives pushed for across-the-board parity in regulations on day two of the CRTC's English hearing.

While she mistakenly compared the legacy media company she and her team are turning to the Titanic, instead of say the Queen Mary, as CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais later suggested, Bell Media president Mary Ann Turcke’s point at the licence renewal hearings for English-language ownership groups was clear. The company needs to focus on the new and rework the old models that are no longer serving the industry.

Among its more controversial proposals to the commission yesterday was that it would like to shut down 40 of its analog transmitters. “To replace the transmitters would be a capital cost in excess of $80 million. It’s not an investment that is warranted at this time,” said Kevin Goldstein, VP of regulatory affairs, content and distribution at BCE.

Turcke said the money that BCE spends on the OTA transmitters could be better invested in areas of growth, calling out digital tech like iHeartRadio, rather than on areas with marginal or flat gains.

When questioned about the removal of the OTA transmitters, Bell Media executives said 38 of the 40 transmitters were located in areas with access to terrestrial BDU. The other two have access to satellite.

Creating an even playing field on which to compete against global players like Netflix and Amazon – the latter of which Turcke said will be launching before the end of the week – was the goal behind many of Bell Media’s proposals.

“I want to be more overt around what I see as not a distant future around Canadian rights,” said Turcke. “If there are six or seven global players then Canadian broadcasters might not get rights to U.S. programming.” But, she noted that the programming will still air in Canada, but on U.S. channels, causing a spillover of free advertising. “When that happens, I’m not sure. It might be this May. It won’t be a gradual switch, it will be picking around the edges.”

Bell proposed the CRTC impose identical Canadian programming expenditures (CPE) and programs of national interest (PNI) spending obligations on Bell, Corus and Rogers. For conventional channels it recommended CPE be set at 22% of the prior year’s gross revenues and for discretionary services with more than one million subscribers, CPE should be set at 32%. It said that PNI should be standardized at 5%, which is the current level that Bell, Corus and Rogers are required to meet.

The CRTC’s licence renewal hearings for English-language ownership groups continue through the end of the week.


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