UPDATE (Dec. 14): A deal has been reached. See below.
I regret to inform you that Bell and Quebecor are at it again.
On Nov. 1, Bell announced that Crave TV and The Movie Network have effectively merged, and Crave is now accessible to anyone subscribed to TMN. Anyone, that is, who isn’t subscribed through Videotron.
In what Videotron has been telling consumers is a “disagreement” (and is implying is entirely Bell’s fault), Videotron and its tens or hundreds of thousands of TMN subscribers have been deprived of this access through crave.ca and the Crave app.
I asked both sides why for a story published at Cartt.ca. Videotron declined to comment, while Bell did the same but not before telling me that it has filed copyright and trademark infringement claims against Videotron for continuing to use video-on-demand content it has no rights for. Bell says Videotron has no VOD rights to Crave/TMN/HBO Canada content, which makes their continued offering of it through Videotron’s Illico On Demand and Illico Web platforms an act of piracy.
According to the statement of claim filed at federal court (which I had to have a courthouse clerk print out from his computer because our legal system is still ridiculous), Bell is claiming damages of at least $20,000 per work for about 2,700 works (individual episodes and movies) or “not less than $100 million.”
Bell’s claim — which Videotron hasn’t responded to yet; it has until Dec. 5 — states that Bell’s distribution agreement with Videotron for The Movie Network was terminated by Videotron in 2016, and the two have been in discussions since. This August, Bell presented an offer to Videotron to keep distributing the new Crave, which Videotron neither accepted nor rejected. On Oct. 16, Bell gave Videotron a 10-day deadline, saying if it didn’t accept a new offer it would no longer be permitted to offer video-on-demand content from Crave after Oct. 31.
Videotron said it was considering its options, but again neither accepted nor rejected the offer.
The deadline passed, and Oct. 31 passed, so on Nov. 2 Bell filed its lawsuit. The lawsuit specifically targets Videotron’s video-on-demand programming for TMN/HBO Canada through Videotron’s Channel 900 VOD system, the Illico app and Videotron’s website. Distribution of the linear channels of TMN (now Crave) and HBO Canada are covered by the CRTC’s standstill rule and so Videotron can keep distributing them legally.
It’s frustrating for Videotron customers, who have been continually inconvenienced by the failure of these two groups to reach a deal. The VOD deal for TMN and HBO Canada was a first step forward, followed by the deal for TSN and RDS. Other Bell Media services, like CTV, Discovery and Space, still don’t have deals with Videotron, so their subscribers still can’t access CTV GO and related services. Rather than taking steps forward, they’re taking steps back.
The offers and contracts are confidential, so we have no idea which side is being unreasonable here. Two previous distribution deals between the two went to CRTC arbitration (TVA Sports on Bell and RDS on Videotron), and the commission sided once with either side.
On one hand, Videotron is trying to get the best deal for its subscribers, who are mostly francophone and have less interest in anglophone TV content (that’s important because many distribution deals factor in total subscribers regardless of whether they’re subscribed to a particular service). And they’re negotiating against a company that is also their direct competitor as a TV service provider. On the other hand, Bell only seems to have this problem with Videotron. Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Cogeco and others have successfully reached deals with them.
Hopefully a settlement is reached quickly in this dispute, and hopefully changes follow so that distribution agreements are less complicated and don’t require such extensive negotiations. In the meantime, Videotron subscribers continue to deal with an incomplete offer of services.
UPDATE (Dec. 14): Bell and Videotron have reached an agreement over the distribution of Crave, and Videotron is now a participating service provider listed on crave.ca. I don’t have further details, but Videotron has raised the price of Crave and Super Écran, from $15 each to $20 and $17 a month, respectively. They’ve also been removed from the “premium” category of packages, which means you can’t include them in a build-your-own package that includes premium channels, without paying $15 extra.
The lawsuit will be withdrawn.