Bell plans French all-news channel

As part of an expanded benefits package presented to the CRTC in its proposed purchase of Astral Media, Bell on Monday said it would create a French-language all-news specialty channel based in Montreal that would compete with LCN and RDI.

You can read more in this story I wrote for The Gazette. Nothing is set in stone yet. They haven’t even applied for a licence, and will wait until a decision comes on the Astral purchase to do so, since this would be contingent on the CRTC accepting the purchase.

But Bell’s plan, should the CRTC accept it, is to put $20 million of its tangible benefits package toward the creation of this channel. Bell Media President Kevin Crull clarified that the funding put into the network would be far higher than that, particularly at first.

The network would be the third French all-news channel in Canada, behind RDI and LCN. That alone has some wondering if the market can support it. Bell made it clear at the hearing that it had no plans to do this before Astral came into the picture. Apparently it was Astral’s idea, in fact.

Crull said that the channel might launch some time in 2013. Considering the delays involved, I would suspect no earlier than fall 2013, and even then I think that’s optimistic.

Good for CTV Montreal?

No plans are set as far as things like how many bureaus there would be or what kind of equipment they would have. We just know it would be based in Montreal. Either way, the addition would be good for CTV’s Montreal news operation if the two sides share resources like Radio-Canada and CBC do. The ability to get video from Quebec’s regions is one of CBC Montreal’s main advantages over CTV.

But this is all speculation at this point. If the CRTC rejects the Astral purchase, this project dies. And it’s not a given that CTV and this new channel would do resource-sharing, even if that would make a lot of sense.

Good for V?

This news also brings up some interesting thoughts about Bell’s future in Quebec. Bell was asked at the hearing how it would compete with Quebecor’s TVA, whose strength is in conventional television, if they don’t own conventional over-the-air TV stations in French Quebec. Bell said the line between conventional and specialty television is getting blurry.

A Bell takeover of the V television network, which is currently owned by Remstar as an independent player, might make sense with this new channel. The two could also share resources or even be co-branded, and V could go from being a non-factor in local news to being a serious competitor for TVA and Radio-Canada.

Bell potentially buying V has been rumoured and speculated for a while now, particularly since V started showing a profit. But Bell might be hesitant trying to justify another major acquisition before the CRTC.


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