Is Sun News worthless? Bell Canada thinks so
Earlier this month, we noted that Bell and Quebecor are in the midst of a small squabble over how much Bell should have to pay for the privilege of broadcasting QMI’s Sun News Network. Given the parties involved and the nature of the dispute, we were hoping that when the dust settled, somehow both sides would end up losers. But Bell recently made an argument that—believe it or not—makes us want to side with Sun News.
Michael Geist, University of Ottawa law professor and expert on all things Internet, explains:
While the dispute is now before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission—Quebecor claims Bell is violating the legal requirement against “undue preferences”–more interesting is Bell’s claim about the value of Sun News Network signal.
According to Mirko Bibic, senior vice-president of regulatory affairs at Bell Canada, the market value of Sun News Network is zero because Quebecor makes the signal available free over-the-air in Toronto and is currently streaming it free on the Internet. Given the free access, Bell maintains that the signal no longer has a market value.
Really, Bell? There are many cheap shots to make about Sun News having no market value, but for some reason, the telecom giant went with this one. The argument we love most is the idea that having Sun News broadcast for free in Toronto—where advertisers can reach hundreds of thousands of homes on the cheap—actually makes the signal worth less, not more. Nice.
Of course, the issue at hand is also relevant to other larger problems currently in front of the CRTC. Remember the “TV tax”? For Bell, it seems the argument over forcing cable and satellite companies to pay up for local TV signals is over—local TV broadcast over the air, after all, isn’t worth anything. In that case, we encourage Bell’s competitors to start stealing CTV’s content.
Geist, being more sober academic and less snarky blogger, makes the broader point: today all broadcasters are competing with free, thanks to the Internet. While we enjoy making fun of Bell (and Sun!) for their pissy slap-fight, the reality is that this is something they’ll need to figure out.