Q&A: Mary Ann Turcke, president of Bell Media

Q&A: Mary Ann Turcke, president of Bell Media

Bell Media boss Mary Ann Turcke has been busy combatting rogue viewers of U.S. Netflix, navigating the new unbundling landscape and reluctantly rubbing elbows with celebs

Mary Ann Turcke
(Image: Erin Leydon)

Traditional TV is under attack from Netflix, villainous downloaders and IP address maskers. When you were offered the job of Bell Media president last year, did you have any reservations about saying yes?
No. Media doesn’t seem quite as daunting as, say, the home phone business was 10 years ago. I mean, it’s daunting, but what’s fun that isn’t?

One-third of English-speaking Canadian Netflix subscribers use virtual private networks to access U.S. Netflix. Last June, you got all finger waggy, calling that stealing. Do you still feel that way?
I do. It’s important to obey copyright laws. If those laws change, fine.

Why can’t Canadians get the same Netflix shows as Americans?
Creators license their shows by country. If they licensed a show in, say, the U.S., but the entire English-speaking world could access it, no other countries—Australia, U.K., Canada, and so on—would want to license it. That means less revenue for the creators.

Last year, you discovered your 15-year-old daughter had set up a VPN at home. You treated it as a teachable moment, but isn’t it futile to expect Canadians—especially young ones—to restrict their consumption habits by country in the era of a borderless Internet?
I don’t think it’s futile. The Internet might be borderless, but content rights aren’t. Netflix agrees. They’ve started cracking down on IP address maskers.

Netflix doesn’t pay Canadian taxes. Should it?

Unbundling has finally arrived. Can you explain what that means?
No more paying for channels you don’t watch. Broadcasters are now required to offer a $25 “skinny” package, which includes CTV, City, Global, CBC and the like. Then you pay for each additional channel or for mini-bundles.

The CRTC mandates that extra channels be “reasonably” priced. Bell charges $7 a month for TSN. In what world is that reasonable?
I think the market will dictate what’s reasonable, but $7 seems like a pretty good deal when I look at it in terms of the cost of producing it.

Is it true that Bell sales staff have been instructed to downplay the skinny basic package and only mention it when asked?
The CBC reported that. We…or I…haven’t heard more on that, no.

It seems like Bell is complying with the letter of the new CRTC rules but not the spirit—that is, to lower cost and improve choice.
The offerings are fairly comparable across providers, and I think we are meeting our CRTC obligations. We want to see what the state of the market is.

One perk of being Bell Media president is getting invited to all sorts of glitzy, celebrity-laden events—

I’ll note for the record a sustained groan.
Ha—well, after a 10-hour workday, a big event can sometimes take a toll. Plus, I didn’t own a formal dress until recently. I’m much more comfortable in jeans.

You attended the Academy Awards. What did you wear?
I kept it conservative: a long black dress. It was a fantastic night. Chris Rock did a great job. And my husband, Gord, and I walked onto the red carpet at the same time as Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. I was totally awestruck and too shy to say hi. My boss, George Cope, is less shy. He got a great shot of Leonardo DiCaprio at the after-party.

Your husband is a former Olympic sailor. How did you two meet?
During the 1987 windsurfing world championships in Kingston. We were on what’s called the committee boat and hit it off. Later, I competed in the women’s world championship.

What does Gord do?
He’s CFO at Shaftesbury Films.

What are you two watching at home these days?
Right now, it’s Billions and Letterkenny.

I notice those are both Bell shows.

I’ve saved the toughest question for last: what’s the best movie of all time?
Oh, that’s easy. The Princess Bride.