WGC, ACTRA weigh in at CRTC hearings

As the CRTC hearings into BCE's $3.2 billion takeover of CTV continue, industry players debated Thursday how much the phone giant should pay to the Canadian broadcast system to secure a greenlight for the transaction.
CRTC

As the CRTC hearings into BCE’s $3.2 billion takeover of CTV continue, industry players debated Thursday how much the phone giant should pay to the Canadian broadcast system to secure a greenlight for the transaction.

BCE earlier in the week agreed to contribute between $143 million and $221 million as part of a tangible benefits package.

But other parties have urged the CRTC to order BCE to spend more on original indie productions and rein in self-serving spending on items like equipment upgrades and other tech advancements.

WGC executive director Maureen Parker told the CRTC Thursday that proposed digital upgrades by BCE — including the MPEG-4 conversion, costing $84 million, HD conversion and the digital transition of the A Channels — represented the “cost of doing business.”

“We recommend that the necessary funds are re-allocated to on-screen programming in order to meet the ratio identified by past practice,” Parker added, namely 10% of TV asset and 6% of radio assets.

Joanne Deer, director of public policy and communications for ACTRA, told the CRTC that 85% of TV benefits in the BCE package should be directed to on-screen benefits, and that 75% of the expenditure should go towards 10-point drama that Canadians would embrace.

Deer added that ACTRA welcomed BCE’s agreement to pay a benefits package, after arguing previously that the telecom giant should not be required to do just because a broadcast license has changed hands.

But ACTRA also told the regulator that BCE was still attempting to minimize the size of its latest CTV benefits package.

“BCE is still offering too little to the Canadian public in exchange for acquiring these valuable assets,” Deer said.

A key sticking point in Thursday¹s hearing was CTV’s conversion to MPEG-4, which BCE insists is too expensive, and is now arguing to fold the expense into its proposed tangible benefits package.

CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein appeared to favor BCE’s plans for a MP3G-4 conversion, telling interveners that it had value for Canadian broadcasting. “I don’t see how you can say this is not a benefit to the system, and knock out the whole $84 million,” he urged.

The consensus among interveners was BCE had to trim its $84 million allocation for a MP3G-4 conversion to put more money into indie production.

“We do see this as definitely of benefit, but we also need to get the numbers back to the on-screen. And we don’t see how you do that unless there’s a give on that issue,” the WGC’s Parker said.

Executives at BCE will return to the CRTC hearings on Friday to address concerns about the value and allocations of its tangible benefits package.