Petition Rallies Against $3.4 Billion Bell-Astral Merger. What Will the CRTC Do?

Nearly six months have passed since March, when the Bell-Astral merger was initially announced. Since then opposition media companies have formed a coalition against the mega media merger ahead of the CRTC hearings that will take place next month.

They’ve announced the formation of an online petition against the merger called SayNoToBell.ca that you can sign today if you feel that the merger is injust. The petition reads, “Warning: letting one company control so much TV programming in Canada could be dangerous to your wallet.”

The implications of the merger are beyond complicated considering the rapidly changing nature of media and content production as a whole given the Internet and the strict Canadian regulations already in place. One could say that Bell is trying to salvage whatever revenue is left in areas they can still grow in the traditional television, radio, and media businesses.

Even, the CRTC forced Bell’s hand to make this move. I explained back in March: “The new CRTC regulations state that in mobile TV the content cannot be the same as to what’s currently on cable or satellite—content providers must offer the competition fair access to their content and include a certain percentage of independents.”

As a result, it makes sense for Bell to purchase Astral. They’ll now be able to control and sell access premiere content currently available to other Canadian cable providers via Astral.

But there’s ways around paying for content access in the age of an ever expanding number of content providing companies like Netflix. Companies like Microsoft are using the XBOX 360 to aggregate content providers.

It’ll also include innovative interactive media experiences unseen in television before. Microsoft believes television will change as much as media and advertising have in the last five years. And these services don’t cost as much as a cable or satellite subscription.

When Techvibes interviewed TVRecaps founder Akshay Khanna a few months ago, we learned that due to the proliferation of television aggregation services online that owning the rights to that content might not be so monopolistic after all. In fact, it might not really matter that much.

Online television, web television, YouTube, aggregation, and other streaming services continue to grow. These are mostly access based as most content creators allow you to embed their videos across the web. Will content ownership matter in the future in a content viewership world that is becoming increasingly aggregated and access-based while maintaining a lower cost?

In the meantime though, if the merger goes ahead, Bell will have a lot of power to do a lot of different things that could change many aspects of Canadian television. It’s a catch 22: if Bell uses the merger to drive cable prices up while encouraging satellite or FIBE delivered on Bell’s new fiber optic network, you could just see consumers flock to the Internet instead.

Consumers are oftentimes more likely to do what’s cheaper. However, FIBE seems like a better quality oriented and less archaic way to watch television over traditional cable, boxes, and dishes. It doesn’t seem like other cable/TV providers compared to Bell are really contributing to healthy competition. Some don’t seem to believe that they can compete now because of this petition.

Even if Bell could potentially gut cable companies’ revenues, it seems like competing companies are the ones trying to hold on here, stuck with digital cable boxes and traditional cable services while Bell has gone ahead with FIBE which doesn’t require a box or dish in limited areas. It offers a better all-around experience and in the future is key for the demands of an increasingly rich television experience.

Perhaps cable and satellite are just simply on the way out. Bell seems to be trying to not only merge their way to success with Astral to get whatever chunk of revenue is left from the business they can’t capture in television, but innovate ahead of other competing companies also.

With that in mind, perhaps the CRTC should allow this merger to happen in order to preserve access of expensive programming like news, the Olympics, and major sports leagues to the widest amount of Canadians. A Bell representative even told the Calgary Hearld, “With Astral, we’re actually level-ling the playing field with the long-dominant media/cable company in Quebec, Quebecor, and bringing new investment and increased competition to the media marketplace.”

Bell is investing an additional $200 million towards content development. The CRTC could always regulate how much access to content would cost for existing cable companies from Bell to give those companies a chance to compete on top of already extensive rules. It likely won’t matter in the end if those same companies fail to innovate beyond FIBE and make inroads in mobile or on the Internet anyways. That is the rule of technology—a better and/or easier to use form usually replaces the previous form.

So then perhaps the CRTC makes a bargain and allows Bell to charge more for content access to the cable companies that don’t innovate, and less to the ones that do to new forms of media. There are ways this merger can work to everyone’s benefit, including Bell’s. And at the same time promote a healthy competitive marketplace based on innovation rather than staying the course as so many Canadian companies do.

The CRTC could adopt an innovative policy like this and certainly be the voice of reason, creating a healthy and competitive marketplace for all companies involved.