In a decision released Friday afternoon, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced it has approved the acquisition of the V television network by Bell Media, filling one of the few remaining holes in Bell’s multi-platform empire.
The V network’s five owned-and-operated stations (it also has three affiliate stations that aren’t affected by the transaction) will become part of the Bell group as of Sept. 1, and have new conditions of licence, including an incremental increase to the amount of local programming and local news they are required to broadcast:
- All stations: 5 hours local programming and 2.5 hours locally reflective programming per week
- CFJP-DT Montréal and CFAP-DT Québec: 8.5 hours local programming and 4.25 hours locally reflective programming per week
- Other stations (Trois-Rivières, Saguenay, Sherbrooke): Same as 2020-21
Bell has committed to exceeding those requirements.
The CRTC has also increased Bell’s requirements for Canadian programming, which were 35% for its French channels (RDS, Canal Vie, Vrak, Canal D et al) and 10% for V, up to 40% to for the combined group.
For Programs of National Interest (mainly expensive scripted programs), which became a point of contention in this proceeding, the CRTC has sided with critics that said Bell should be forced to keep it at 18% for the entire group instead of averaging the group between the 18% for its existing French-language channels and the 10% that V was previously subject to.
The CRTC calculated tangible benefits at $3.1 million, split between the Canada Media Fund (60%) and the Bell Fund (40%). The latter, a certified independent production fund, will spend the money solely on French-language initiatives.
Bell welcomed the decision, without giving any specifics on its plans. The company told the CRTC it would expect to get newsrooms back running at the V stations by next January, and those newsrooms would be independent from those run by CTV.
The acquisition also includes Noovo.ca, which is V’s online video hub and whose change of ownership does not require CRTC approval.
The specialty channels Elle Fictions (formerly MusiquePlus) and MAX (formerly Musimax) remain under the control of Maxime Rémillard and with the same minority shareholders including the Caisse de dépôt, Investissement Québec and the Fonds de solidarité FTQ. Another CRTC decision regroups them as their own separate group, whose name is to be determined.
UPDATE (May 7): Quebecor has filed notice in court that it may appeal the decision, once the CRTC releases its reasons.
Bell is gobbling up so many TV stations, as well as the Centre Bell and Place Bell. It’s become an insatiable monopoly, and every time they increase my phone and internet rates I get disgusted.
Not to mention Bell has done away with 50% of the “bundle” credit this month.
Bell’s motto should be “More money for Less content”.
One thing is certain: The CRTC never says no to Bell, just sometimes says “ask nicer”.
That said, if this adds a valid news voice to the Montreal market, then it is a good thing. However, you have to wonder what financial gymnastics have been done to make this possible. Where does this magical new money come from to support local news when the previous owners had no chance?
However it works out, one thing is clear: the CRTC let Bell (once again) get another piece of the pie. That is one less piece of pie for the independent players.
Yeah, the CRTC never says no to Bell.
In a word: synergy. V was an independent, which means it was on its own for overhead including HR, IT, advertising, marketing, accounting and all the other things that other larger broadcasters centralize. With Bell Media, many of those positions won’t be necessary because it already has those functions and only needs to scale them up slightly. Being part of Bell’s group also means that it can share resources with Bell’s French-language specialty channels, including running the same shows as Vrak, Canal Vie et al and a bunch of free advertising for those specialty channels on a conventional TV network.
Plus, as Bell is a TV provider in Quebec, it can redirect money from Bell TV to support V’s local news programming. (V, as an independent, had access to the Independent Local News Fund.)
That’s not to say this will be easy. This is a big bet on a weak conventional TV network when the business model for conventional TV isn’t exactly promising.
And then there’s the matter of the two specialty channels that V is holding on to. It still has to keep that overhead, but now has lost the promotional vehicle and content that the conventional network offered.
That’s true, and definitely a consideration. But the CRTC has to consider what the realistic alternative was. V wasn’t sold for a lot of money, and there aren’t really any independent broadcasters in Quebec large or willing enough to take it. Had the transaction been denied, there’s a very real possibility the consequence would have been V shutting down for good.
Your example doesn’t work. CRTC didn’t say no, they just said you have to do it differently, which Bell did. Further, it was a request to reverse a decision, not a stand alone situation. The CRTC had already ruled that certain expenditures that Bell had tried to pass were not acceptable under the system.
Synergy in areas such as HR and what not isn’t the type of huge savings needed here.
The real question remains that of underfunded local stations. Bell, Videotron and all charge consumers for delivery of these channels but do not pay for them. Even a few cents per subscriber would make a sea change for local programming, especially if that money was mandated to be used for production of local programming and local news. Instead, the CRTC allows Bell and others to become vertically integrated, squeeze the money out of the top, and then bitch that local channels don’t work.
The CRTC won’t stop this charade. We know it’s all a lie because Bell alone makes over a billion in profit every year. Their cable offerings would be useless if they didn’t have channels to distribute. The failure to treat local channels in the same manner as other channels for cable payments is destroying the local channel system.
Give V 5 cents per subscriber for the hundreds of thousands of people watching via cable, and they would be very profitable. Instead, Bell and Videotron are very profitable.
That’s probably true. But the CRTC doesn’t have the power to change that. It tried, and was overturned in court. If you want that business model imposed, you’ll need to convince the federal government to change the Broadcasting Act.
Here we go again. Too much concentration of media power.
As if we haven’t seen the negative effects of this before.
Bell Media will now control in the Montreal market the following.
Just in OTA media. Not even taking into consideration all the other media properties.
And I choose OTA as an example simply because no subscription service is required to access these stations.They are all free over the air.
12.1 – CFCF-DT (CTV Montreal)
35.1 – CFJP-DT (V Tele)
690 CKGM-AM (TSN Montreal)
Is this too much in one market? I think so.
The CRTC should have forced them to sell two of their FM stations in order to allow the V Tele purchase.
I live in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, which is served by CFGS-DT (a V affiliate owned by RNC, which also owns TVA affiliate CHOT-DT in the region) so while the sale of V to Bell Media will affect almost all of V’s programming, it won’t directly affect V’s signal strength and (sparse) local programming in my region.
I’m concerned because RNC has the weakest signal in my region, with CIVO-DT (Télé-Québec) being spotty as well. I never got a CFGS signal, while CHOT (like CIVO) only works by moving my antenna. CHOT airs 47 minutes of local news daily Mon-Fri, compared to 10 minutes and news briefs (commercial breaks) on CFGS. Even if RNC or Bell improve programming, I’m unlikely to receive a signal.
I’m also concerned because while Bell increased local news coverage in recent years, it has failed to properly announce an upcoming major change in OTA you covered: for the first time in its broadcast history, CJOH (CTV) will move from VHF 13 (region’s last VHF, hit or miss for digital, and my signal deteriorated this year) to UHF 16 (which should provide much better reception, like CHRO-DT-43, aka. CTV 2). Anchors are mum on this, but proudly discuss Bell’s rural FTTN projects.
Other concerns are Bell Media’s large share of the Ottawa market (Majic 100, Rouge FM, etc.) and the TV1 local channel being limited to IPTV (the so-called “Fibe”) paid subscribers. Many homes have a Bell Satellite TV dish, but Bell does not offer TV1 on satellite, CJOH or CHRO.
To sumamrize, I hope Bell improves its offerings this year. If not, I’ll look at alternatives.