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Justin Bieber was among the Canadian icons trotted out in BCE’s promotional video. (Mike Dembeck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Justin Bieber was among the Canadian icons trotted out in BCE’s promotional video. (Mike Dembeck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Humbled, Bell wraps Astral deal in the Maple Leaf Add to ...

Bell Media is taking a page from CBC’s playbook.

When the public broadcaster appeared before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Monday in Gatineau, Que., for a long-awaited licence renewal proceeding, it stressed its role as a vital platform for Canadians to tell their stories.

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But BCE Inc. beat them to the punch, trumpeting its renewed shot at acquiring Astral Media Inc., announced Monday morning, with a slick Web video that painted the proposed Bell-Astral as a vital champion of Canadian content, precisely of the sort necessary to beat back “foreign multinationals.”

“Bell Media spends nearly $600-million a year in original Canadian production, and viewers watch more Canadian content on Bell Media channels than anywhere else,” the video proclaims, as images of Canadian content – the Juno Awards, Justin Bieber, Flashpoint, a French-language Montreal Canadiens broadcast – flash across the screen. “Plus, an additional 100 hours per week in local content has been invested in Bell Media’s western markets over the last two years. Part of a renewed commitment to news and spoken-word programming.”

The video is part of a full-court public relations press of the sort that Bell stubbornly refused to undertake last summer, even as competitors such as Cogeco Inc. and Quebecor Inc. financed a multimillion-dollar “Say No to Bell” advertising and PR campaign. Bell partly blamed the ad onslaught for the CRTC’s Oct. 18 rejection of its original application to acquire Astral.

Bell’s own PR campaign includes a website, CanadiansDeserveMore.ca, that claims the new deal’s benefits will include “more choice for consumers,” “more competition in Quebec,” “more investment in Canadian radio and television content,” and “more funding for Canadian arts and culture.”

The company also launched the Twitter handle @MoreForCanada that tweeted more than a dozen times on Monday, including the contention: “Viewers watch way more Canadian content on CTV than any other channel, including CBC/SRC.”

The video reiterates some of the arguments BCE made when it first took a run at Astral last spring, when it insisted that a bulked-up Bell-Astral would be the best national cultural defence against unregulated program distributors such as Netflix. “The future will demand media companies with sufficient size and scope to innovate, and compete for program rights against unregulated, over-the-top players such as Netflix,” says the voiceover. “These foreign multinationals aren’t interested in local radio and TV. Bell Media and Astral understand the importance of these services to local communities. It’s in their DNA.”

In rejecting Bell’s original application, the CRTC said it wasn’t convinced so-called over-the-top services were much of a threat yet to the national broadcast ecosystem. Astral echoed the CRTC’s point on a recent earnings call.

Still, the PR campaign heavily promotes the idea that the newly proposed media company would be a vital champion of Canadian content, especially at the local level. Astral has more than 80 radio stations.

“The combined Bell-Astral will form a network of intensely local radio stations, and will provide unprecedented support for emerging and established Canadian artists,” the video promises. “Our emerging Canadian music will shine, locally and nationally, leading to benefits that will go well beyond our borders. The new proposal to the CRTC also promises major investments in arts and culture, through direct contributions to key French and English film festivals. Plus, a ground-breaking Quebec partnership with Cirque du Soleil, positioned for worldwide distribution.”

Last summer, as the anti-Bell PR campaign gained traction, Bell announced an agreement to launch a $15-million production company with the Quebec-based circus, to produce and distribute programs. The CRTC’s rejection of the deal last month threw the future of that venture into question.

“It’s vital to produce original, high-quality, homegrown productions to ensure our culture and our stories have a voice,” the Bell video concludes. “The combination of Bell Media and Astral will enhance the Canadian production community’s ability to keep telling our stories in more ways than ever before.” This isn’t just about making a bigger media company, it’s about making a better one. Because Canadians deserve more.”

Follow on Twitter: @simonhoupt

 
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