Updated April 12 with court ruling and TVA Sports returning to Bell TV
Four days after it threatened Bell subscribers with on-air messages, TVA pulled TVA Sports from Bell TV on Wednesday at 7pm, as scheduled, the start time for the NHL playoffs.
Bell immediately announced that it would make Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360, which with CBC and City comprise all the channels carrying NHL playoff games, free for subscribers “temporarily.”
Quebecor, meanwhile, issued a statement saying it was disappointed it couldn’t reach a deal.
On Thursday, the CRTC announced that it was calling Groupe TVA to a hearing in Gatineau on April 17 to explain itself, and threatened to either issue a mandatory order (which would be enforceable in federal court) or even suspend TVA Sports’s broadcasting licence in light of the decision to ignore its warnings about pulling service during a dispute.
In court, as Bell tried to get a court injunction for TVA to stop what it’s doing, Quebecor lawyers offered a truce, to bring back the channel at 6pm and maintain it until April 23 as the two sides negotiate with the help of the CRTC. Bell accepted on condition that TVA Sports accept a court order requiring the re-establishing of the signal, but Quebecor refused that condition.
On Friday, the court granted Bell’s request for an injunction, ordering TVA Sports re-established on Bell TV by 6pm, but did not order Quebecor to cease its “Fair Value” campaign, which Bell says is false and defamatory. TVA complied with the request, and TVA Sports returned to Bell TV by 6pm.
In addition to ensuring Bell TV subscribers could get access to NHL playoff games, Bell Media acquired the rights to two additional Montreal Impact MLS games, another TVA Sports exclusivity, so they can be broadcast on TSN. That pushed the date of the next Impact game only broadcast on TVA Sports to April 28. Bell TV had said it would make TSN also available for free for Montreal Impact fans.
Bell customers got a pretty scary-looking message during the Canadiens-Maple Leafs game Saturday night on TVA Sports: The sports channel, which has the French-language rights to all NHL playoff games, will be removed from Bell TV as a way for Bell to “punish” those subscribers.
TVA also aired the graphic during La Voix, Quebec’s most popular TV show, on Sunday.
TVA airs a message attacking Bell during La Voix on Sunday, April 7, 2019.
Bell said not only is this message not true, it would be against CRTC regulations. The CRTC wrote to both parties twice to say that during their dispute, TVA is required to keep offering its channels to Bell and Bell is required to keep distributing them.
TVA said it doesn’t care, it’s pulling its signal anyway. Which means this dispute will quickly escalate in the legal and regulatory sphere.
Except it’s already escalated there, because this is a battle being fought on multiple fronts:
- An existing CRTC process in which TVA complains of unfair treatment (currently in the reply phase)
- A TVA lawsuit against Bell demanding compensation for its unfair packaging
- A Bell request for injunction against TVA demanding the signal be returned
- An emergency CRTC hearing called for next week in which TVA has been ordered to explain itself
- Direct negotiations between Bell and TVA to reach a deal on carriage
- TVA’s media campaign and Bell’s press releases in response, fighting in the public arena
- Pierre Karl Péladeau’s lobbying of federal politicians to make changes to the CRTC’s dispute resolution process
- Programming changes at Bell Media and packaging changes at Bell TV to mitigate the loss of TVA Sports for Bell customers
How long Bell customers will actually be without TVA Sports is anyone’s guess. But TVA says it’s prepared to do whatever it takes.
(You can read more about my interview with TVA chief operating officer Martin Picard in this story at Cartt.ca, but I have lots of details below about the conflict.)