CRTC approves Bell’s V acquisition

The Commission found that the transaction serves the public interest and noted that the rationale for its decision would be published at a later date.
Bell Media pic

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has greenlit Bell Canada’s acquisition of Groupe V Média’s V Interactions – finding “that the transaction serves the public interest” despite previous calls that it would create a media monopoly.

In a decision notice issued on Friday (April 3), the CRTC approved the transaction with conditions that the company guarantee adequate investment in local programming and original French-language Canadian programming, noting that the rationale for its resolution would be published at a later date.

Bell Media previously announced it had entered into an agreement with Groupe V Média’s shareholders to acquire French-language TV network V and its related digital assets such as ad-supported VOD service Noovo.ca in July 2019. During the transaction’s February hearing, Quebecor Media’s CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau fought the $31.3 million deal, arguing it would create a media monopoly – going so far as to call on the Commission to not only reject the acquisition but “dismantle Bell before it is too late.”

Effective Sept. 1, these conditions include having V stations broadcast five hours of local programming per week for the Montreal and Quebec City markets in 2020/21, with two hours and 30 minutes of locally reflective programming. Following this, the number of hours will increase to eight hours and 30 minutes for the 2021/22 broadcast year, with four hours and 15 minutes of local programming.

Additionally, for 2020/21 and 2021/22, V stations in Trois-Rivières, Saguenay and Sherbrooke are required to broadcast five hours of local programming, including two hours and 30 minutes of locally reflective programming for each market.

The Bell Media Group is also required to spend at least 40% of the previous year’s revenues in Canadian programming and at least 18% of the previous year’s revenues for programs of national interest (PNI). As a condition of approval, the Commission also ordered Bell to file a document on the distribution of CPE and PNI surpluses between V Média and MusiquePlus no later than November 30.

The Commission also directed Bell to pay $3.1 million in tangible benefits to the Canada Media Fund (CMF) and the Bell Fund in equal payments over the course of seven consecutive years. The CMF will receive 60% of this payment, while the Bell Fund will receive 40%. Bell has also been directed to file an agreement between the CMF and the Bell Fund attesting that the tangible benefits from the transaction “will exclusively serve French-language initiatives,” no later than June 30.

Bell must also submit an application to add V stations to its list of services included in its French-language Bell Media Group; an application to amend the conditions of licence once integrated under the new French-language Bell Media Group; and an application to amend the conditions of licence applicable to Bell Media’s discretionary services and any necessary amendments following the integration of V stations in its new group. All told, the licence will expire on August 31, 2022.

“With this timely approval, Bell is now one step closer to ensuring the long-term viability of V at a critical moment for the broadcasting industry,” said Karine Moses, Bell Media Québec president and Bell’s vice chair, Québec, in a press release welcoming the news on Friday. “This is a new era for the Québec television ecosystem that will see Bell Media add new opportunities for French-language content creation and deliver enhanced news programming. We look forward to building on our investment in Québec content and culture with V.”​

The statement also noted that by combining Bell Media and V’s Montreal-based management, programming and production teams, “the successful completion of the transaction will provide Québec viewers with added diversity in news and entertainment programming on all platforms as well as extended opportunities for Québec’s advertising industry.”

In its notice, the CRTC also acknowledged that it had analyzed the possible impact of the transaction on the V stations and the Canadian broadcasting system with regards to the French-language market and the deal’s proposed benefits – noting that Bell highlighted its commitment during the public hearing with its statement that the headquarters for V stations and French-language Bell Media Group would remain in Montreal.