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Bell Media gets okay to amplify Barrie TV station's signal

The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

Bell Media Inc. will amplify its Barrie, Ont. television station's signal to reach most of the Golden Horseshoe, after a CRTC decision Thursday that has its competitors enraged over the potential loss of millions of advertising dollars.

Bell bought Barrie's CKVR from CTVglobemedia Inc. in 2011 and rebranded it as a CTV Two station, which it uses to run additional programming not found on its main network.

It also owns CFTO, which covers the Greater Toronto Area, Oshawa and Newmarket. It applied to increase the Barrie channel's reach so it could offer all of its programming to all of its customers.

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The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission granted the application, although it said Bell has to provide almost 10 hours of local programming out of Barrie each day, up from seven hours, and not move the station out of the community.

It must also refrain from soliciting local advertising in the new communities receiving its signal: Burlington, Fonthill, Fort Erie, Hamilton, Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Oakville and Welland.

But competitors suggest Bell will be able to take advantage of its new situation, to offer bundle packages to advertisers that the single-channel stations can't hope to match. Channel Zero, which operates CHCH-TV in Hamilton, said the decision would cost the industry up to $8.9-million in the first year; CBC suggested it could be closer to $10-million.

"We are extremely surprised and disappointed by the CRTC's decision today to grant Bell Media two additional digital transmitters in Toronto for CKVR-TV Barrie," said Keith Pelley, the president of Rogers Media. "This is a radical change to the CRTC's Common Ownership Policy and upsets the competitive balance in the Toronto market."

The commission rejected the opponents' concerns, saying that their estimates of lost revenue are small compared with the amount of money currently being spent on advertising in the Golden Horsehoe region.

"The commission notes that the immediate impact as estimated would only represent a modest proportion of the total revenues generated by the English-language conventional television stations in the Toronto extended market, which represented approximately $625-million in 2010," it wrote in a decision Thursday.

The CRTC – which regulates Canada's broadcast industry – wasn't unanimous in its support. Commissioners Rita Cugini and Peter Menzies said the decision "fails to take into consideration the significant impact it will have on competition in the Greater Toronto Area and the Golden Horseshoe and is not in the best interest of competition and therefore the consumer/citizen."

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Bell Media, a subsidiary of BCE Inc., has up to two years to make the changes.

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