Telco/media giant to create Netflix-like service

MONTREAL — Telecom and broadcast giant Bell Canada plans to bow a 24-hour, French-language news network and a bilingual Netflix-like service in Canada.

But Bell will only commit to these projects if local broadcast regulator the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission greenlights its $3.4 billion acquisition of rival broadcaster Astral Media.

The CRTC is holding hearings in Montreal this week looking into the Bell-Astral deal, which rivals claim will give Bell a dominant position in the market. Montreal-based Astral owns a slew of cable channels while Bell owns the country’s top commercial network, CTV, and a bunch of cable channels.

There has been fierce opposition to the deal from competitors like French-language TV and newspaper company Quebecor and consumer groups who fear increased prices for TV services.

Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau blasted Bell Tuesday, accusing execs of being arrogant.

“If (the deal) were to be accepted, it will mark a point of no return for the future of telecommunications and broadcasting in Canada,” said Peladeau. “We’re going to create a market that’s going to be driven by a monopoly mindset and this is going to be bad for consumers and bad for all Canadians citizens.”

But Bell received strong support on Tuesday at the hearings, with Calgary-based cable operator and broadcaster Shaw Communications backing the deal.

“There is no doubt that the proposed acquisition will make Bell bigger than it is today,” said Shaw prexy Peter Bissonnette. “We urge the commission to support our efforts to respond to the real competitive threat to the system, unregulated, foreign services like Apple, Google, Amazon and Netflix.”

The CRTC has not indicated when it will rule on the deal.

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