Quebecor Inc. is stepping up a fight with competitor BCE Inc. by threatening to cut off access to its TVA Sports channel for Bell’s TV subscribers.
On Saturday night, viewers watching the final game of the season for the Montreal Canadiens on TVA Sports saw a message from the channel’s parent company, Quebecor. Addressed to Bell’s television subscribers, the message said “Bell has decided to penalize you,” and suggested that TVA Sports’s signal would go off the air in the coming days.
Quebecor’s message, on the eve of the Stanley Cup playoffs, encouraged viewers to avoid missing any programming by contacting other TV carriers such as Cogeco Communications Inc., Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp., Quebecor subsidiary Videotron, a local distributor – or by subscribing to TVA Sports Direct, the channel’s digital subscription service.
The message also aired on the company’s TVA channel during reality show La Voix on Sunday evening.
Quebecor has now launched a campaign accusing Bell of “unsportsmanlike conduct,” and encouraging people to visit Justevaleur.ca, a website making the case that the fees paid to some specialty channels by TV carriers are unfair and do not reflect their popularity among viewers.
“Quebecor’s reckless campaign and illegal actions are all about our negotiations over pricing for its TVA Sports channel and Bell Media’s RDS sports network,” Martine Turcotte, Bell’s vice-chair for Quebec, said in a statement on Monday. “Quebecor actually wants to charge Bell more to access its TVA Sports channel than Quebecor/Videotron is willing to pay for RDS.”
Bell said in the statement Monday that the CRTC had issued a directive requiring Quebecor to continue to provide TVA Sports to Bell’s TV subscribers.
At a speech before the Canadian Club in Ottawa on Monday, Quebecor chief executive officer Pierre Karl Péladeau said that TVA Sports receives significantly less revenue from subscribers compared with Bell’s French-language sports channel, RDS.
“We have the same amount of investment and almost the same market share. But we’re not paid appropriately,” he said during the speech. “… It’s like if you were to reward a hockey player that scored 20 goals a year, he would be better paid than a guy scoring 50 goals. That doesn’t make sense. You should reward success; you should not reward monopoly, you should not reward incumbency.”
TVA Sports had a total of $61.8-million in subscriber revenue in 2016 – the most recent year that CRTC data were available – while RDS drew subscriber revenue of $125.2-million that year.
“The reality is that RDS is the leading French-language sports network by far, consistently outpacing TVA Sports in both content and viewership, and Bell Media will not devalue the clear fan favourite,” Ms. Turcotte said in the statement, adding that Bell will negotiate rates for the channel with Quebecor “in good faith.”
The public spat follows an application before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that Quebecor Media Inc. filed in February against BCE subsidiaries Bell Canada and Bell ExpressVu. The application alleges RDS has enjoyed an advantage by being placed in Bell’s most popular TV package, while TVA Sports has an unfair disadvantage as an add-on costing an additional $14. This differs from other providers such as Shaw, Telus, Cogeco and Quebecor’s Videotron, which offer RDS and TVA Sports in a more equitable way, Quebecor said in its application to the CRTC.
Under Canadian rules, anyone holding a broadcasting distribution licence is prohibited from giving “undue preference to any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue disadvantage.” Quebecor cited this rule in its application, and asked the federal regulator to require Bell to offer TVA Sports in the same tier of TV service as RDS. The application is still before the CRTC.