BCE Inc. has stated its intentions to purchase major Canadian commercial broadcaster CTV for $5.3 billion. Combined with Shaw’s bid to purchase CanWest Global in its entirety and Rogers’ recent acquisition of CityTV stations across the country, this news definitively ensures the destruction of local television in Canada forever.
Bell, who will be expanding their current 15% ownership of CTVGlobemedia, has decided to gain full control of CTV’s vast broadcasting resources, including all 27 of its local stations and its 30 specialty broadcasters. This includes the appalling lucrative TSN as well as all of the specialty stations previously owned by CHUM.
This is without doubt a reaction to last year’s debacle in which local broadcasters demanded that cable and satellite providers (ie: Bell, Rogers, Shaw) pay to carry their signals. Naturally, the entire demand was something of a sham; the real voices behind the demand for this fee-for-carriage belonged to CTV and Global, looking to offset the damages that had been brought about through years of mismanagement. In hindsight, showing such a degree of vulnerability in relation to Canada’s almighty gods of broadcasting distribution was a poor decision on their part.
Unlike in the United States, local broadcasters are not independently operated, and are owned by broadcasting companies rather than merely being affiliated with them. The majority of local broadcasters in the country had been accumulated by these two broadcasting giants over decades of corporate consolidation, making this coup all too easy an achievement for the likes of Bell.
Assuming the transaction goes through (it will), Canada can look forward to an unprecedented situation in which cable and satellite providers own most of the content they provide. However, the greatest threat which will come about from broadcasting distributors taking full control of what runs through their pipes is the boundless opportunities to exploit public ignorance. After years of being conditioned into purchasing expensive cable and satellite packages for supposedly better service and AV quality, people seem to have lost sight of a vital aspect of their media: television is supposed to be free. They also don’t realize that it still is free (well, at least in some places), and the AV quality of free HD signals that can be picked up via antenna are of superior quality to the compressed equivalents being delivered by cable and satellite companies. It’s the equivalent of driving to a grocery store to purchase expired milk when you’ve actually had a perfectly healthy cow sitting in your front yard for years.
Assuming that Bell and Shaw will put earnest effort into making their new local propaganda toys into efficient and accessible public resources without obscuring the fact that they’re supposed to be made available for free would be giving them entirely too much credit. It seems clear that the commercial broadcasting industry in Canada is in for quite an efficient collapse when the masses finally realize that cable and satellite are a waste of time and money.