Just days after the boardroom battle that ripped apart the Rogers family, Rogers Communications and Shaw are in front of the CRTC in an effort to convince the federal regulator that fewer broadcast and cable players means more competition. Similar arguments have been presented to the Commission over the past decades as the television industry slowly consolidated into three private players plus CBC. Whether the commission has bought the arguments or not, the fact is they have approved a lot of these consolidations.
In an opening presentation, representatives of the two broadcast giants promised that the merger of Rogers and Shaw will result in major benefits particularly in western Canada. They promised to invest in improving access to broadcasting to indigenous groups and the creation of jobs for first nations people. Over the decades broadcasters looking for mergers or transfer of licenses have responded to the shifting social priorities of the CRTC—gender equality and visible minority representation, even closed captioning for hearing impairment—all of which have seen significant improvement—and now aboriginal representation. They also promised that the merger will allow the combined entity to improve broadband service to underserved areas.
CRTC Chair Ian Scott addressed the 800-pund gorilla
The answer appeared to suggest that if the sale is allowed to go through, Rogers would invest money improving service to communities that don’t have access to broadband at present. Sometimes the CRTC will circle back on verbal promises of that nature and ask that they be made a condition of approval.
Then the chair asked about consumer cable bills
If the deal goes through the resulting company will earn 37.4% of national cable revenues and would own 35.5% of subscribers.
The CRTC has received dozens of interventions for and against the merger. Telus has filed an intervention opposing the deal saying it would kill competition, writing, “Rogers will effectively become a gatekeeper for programming due to its increased incentive to withhold affiliated content from rival BDUs,(cable providers) and its ability to “make or break” unaffiliated programming services by denying them carriage on Rogers’ distribution platforms.”
Bell Canada pointed out that with the availability of unregulated streaming services like Netflix has blown up the Canadian broadcast business model, which traditionally saw cable revenues used to support Canadian TV production. Wrote BCE, “these well-documented developments have plunged the Canadian television industry into an existential crisis as it attempts to manage the move to Internet-based distribution in an orderly fashion while continuing to further the objectives of the (Broadcasting) Act.”