Five things we learn about the Astral/BCE deal from the CRTC

Key revisions to the transaction's associated benefits package included Bell Media's naming of programming champions for English- and French-language TV.
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The CRTC has released a follow-up to the Astral-BCE transaction, which includes key revisions to commitments promised by the phone giant as part of a benefits package associated with a revised, and ultimately successful, bid by the Bell Media parent to acquire Astral Media for $3.4 billion.

Here are the five most important things gleaned from the report:

1. Bell Media has appointed two regional programming champions as part of a bid by the CRTC to see the broadcaster cast a wide net for TV concepts from indie producers.

Corrie Coe, SVP of independent production for Bell Media, will oversee the development of new programs in English-speaking Canada, while Mario Clement, VP of content for Bell Media in Quebec, will assume the same role in French-speaking markets.

And to ensure results, the CRTC will have Coe, Clement and other Bell Media development execs doing the industry rounds to meet with indie producers in the field. That will include attending film festivals, taking part in industry panels at Banff and Prime Time in Ottawa. An example is Tom Hastings from independent production having just returned from the Victoria Film Festival.

2. The CRTC prefers Telefilm Canada to the indie film distributors as guardians of a $3 million war chest for promotion. The regulator rejected BCE’s initial bid to have the Canadian Association of Film Distributors and Exporters, representing indie distributors, dole out the $3 million for a promotion fund over five years. The strategy would be to use the fund to allow broadcasters to promote Canadian feature films.

So BCE returned with a proposal for Telefilm Canada to  administer the broadcast fund, in part because they already help promote homegrown movies, and the CRTC approved.

“It is an established funding agency that is well known to the film industry and has an infrastructure in place to appropriately and effectively administer funding to best support the promotion of a range of Canadian films for theatrical release,” the regulator said in a Feb. 17 decision.

3. Rogers may want out of the terms of trade agreement; BCE is still on side with Canadian producers.

BCE signed terms of trade agreements with the CMPA and the AQPM, and reports progress in separate talks with the APFC, also representing Quebec producers.

“Accordingly, the commission finds that BCE has satisfied the direction in this regard…” the CRTC said in its decision.

The BCE stance contrasts with Rogers, which in a Jan. 29, 2013 submission to the regulator argued the terms of trade agreement “has posed significant challenges to its ability to commission and invest in the creation of new, high quality Canadian programming that yields the desired outcomes in terms of popularity, branding, profitability and consumer satisfaction.”

Rogers asked for the CRTC to delete the terms of trade agreement provisions from its conditions of licence for the next broadcast term.

Rogers added it will abide by the terms of trade agreement until it expires in 2016.

4. More film festivals will benefit from BCE tangible benefits coin. The media group will divert funding from TV commitments to regional festivals not already sponsored. The festivals put forward for new financing include international film festivals in Calgary, Victoria, and La tournee du cinema quebecois in Moncton, Summerside and Charlottetown, Halifax, Winnipeg, Orleans and Sudbury in Ontario, Nanaimo and Victoria in B.C. and in Kuujjuaq and Iqaluit in Nunavut.

5. The new Bell Media regional office in Winnipeg came at the urging of the CRTC. BCE initially proposed Vancouver and Halifax to receive programming funds. “The commission considered that a regional office should also be opened in Winnipeg. Accordingly it directed BCE to establish regional offices in all three cities.” And BCE also told the CRTC that the Montreal regional office will field pitches from English-language producers, in addition to core French-language producers.