Bell Media revenues down 1.3% in Q4

Ad dollars declined 4.4% in the last three months of the year.
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This story has been updated

A year-over-year revenue decline at Bell Media put a slight damper on what was otherwise a strong quarter for BCE.

BCE’s overall Q4 impressed investors thanks to strong growth in its broadband and wireless phone business, which saw a 55.9% increase in post-paid wireless subscribers – its biggest increase in 15 years. Overall, the company saw revenues increase 4.5% year-over-year to $5.9 billion.

Weakened television ad sales and declining linear television viewership led to a 1.3% drop in media revenues, year-over-year, to $834 million in Q4. Bell Media reported its ad revenue decreased 4.4% compared to the same period last year, and saw a 9% decline in EBITDA to $171 million from $188 million for the same period in 2016.

However, the company did note in its Thursday morning call with investors that those losses were partly stemmed by growth in its Astral out-of-home advertising business (but it did not provide hard numbers) and highlighted the media segment’s overall subscriber revenue growth of 4.7%, “driven by BDU contract renewals, pay TV subscriber growth and higher revenues from CraveTV and TV Everywhere streaming services.”

CraveTV’s specific subscriber base increased by 22% over the course of the year to approximately 1.3 million. CEO George Cope said CraveTV and Bell Media’s TV Everywhere products were helping stem business lost to cord-cutting, which he acknowledged remains a trend to watch, but said it hasn’t accelerated in the past 12 months.

A detailed look at cord cutters and ‘cord nevers’

Cope also noted, however, that production and rights costs for CraveTV content were hampering Bell Media’s overall profitability.

Among Bell Media’s specialty TV properties, TSN saw strong audience growth of 9% in its fall season (versus fall 2016), driven by big audiences around the Grey Cup (which had a peak audience of approximately six million) and approximately 2 million viewers tuning in to the MLS Cup Final. But similar to CraveTV’s increased production costs, the company noted the increase in the costs of sporting property rights is having an impact on profitability.

The media unit’s full-year operating revenue did increase 0.7% to $3.104 billion. This included a 2.1% increase in operating costs and “an $11 million unfavourable impact related to the CRTC’s decision to ban simultaneous substitution for the Super Bowl.”

Correction: This story originally stated the Crave TV had added 1.3 million subscribers in 2017. Media In Canada regrets the error.