CRTC opens CTV/BCE transaction hearings

BCE on Tuesday defended its tangible benefits package for taking over CTV, contending it's offering "significant commitments" to new Canadian content production.

BCE on Tuesday defended its tangible benefits package for taking over CTV, contending it’s offering “significant commitments” to new Canadian content production.

The telecom giant offered two proposed tangible benefits scenarios, one for $142.7 million that includes $30 million for indie production, and another worth $220.8 million in which $53.2 million will be allocated to indie production.

The more generous benefits package includes $25 million for investment in CTV’s secondary A Channel network.

BCE topper George Cope told the CRTC that it had to consider the $230-million benefits package it contributed in 2000 when it first purchased a stake in CTV, when deciding on a benefits package for its latest $3.2-billion deal for CTV.

“Never before has an applicant been asked to pay tangible benefits twice on the same asset, let alone when it never exited as a shareholder of that asset and already made what still stands as a record tangible benefits payment,” Cope told the regulator as part of a pitch likely to be countered by industry players, including indie producers, as the regulatory hearings continue.

The Bell/CTV hearings also touched on key issues likely to surface during next summer’s vertical integration hearings, including ensuring BCE guarantees shared access to CTV content among its rivals as it looks to build out new digital platforms like the Internet and mobile with exclusive content.

CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein pressed BCE executives on the issue of live sport broadcasts, whose rights are of little use to rival content carriers, whether on TV or mobile, after a game is played.

Cope assured the regulator that, should CTV sports specialty channel TSN have the online and mobile content rights to live sport properties, BCE will make that content available to its Bell Mobility customers on a subscription basis, and to rival mobile carriers on a commercial basis.

BCE execs also pointed to progress on on-going terms of trade negotiations between content carriers and the Canadian Media Production Association, representing indie producers.

The CRTC is looking to successfully wrap up the terms of trade talks before upcoming license renewal hearings before the regulator.