TV providers are already launching on-demand services to compete with Netflix, says Rogers Communications, which argued Wednesday against Bell‘s testimony that buying Astral Media will help provide a Canadian alternative to foreign online companies.
“This notion that Bell plus Astral is the scale that we need to defeat Netflix in Canada is one that we find absurd,” Ken Engelhart, senior vice-president of regulatory at Rogers told a CRTC hearing into Bell’s $3.4-billion deal to buy Montreal-based Astral.
Bell told the CRTC earlier this week it will launch a “made-in-Canada” competitor to Netflix and other big U.S. online TV and entertainment providers, as part of its pitch to buy Astral.
But Engelhart said cable companies in Canada and around North America are already buying rights to libraries of television shows and movies in order to compete with Netflix – making Bell’s offer just one of many.
“So this is not a terribly startling development and it’s not some secret formula or secret sauce that Bell has that no one else has,” he added.
Engelhart said Netflix – which offers unlimited viewing of their library at a set monthly rate – took off because it provided content that no one else had, allowing viewers to “binge,” or watch numerous episodes of shows they missed.
But he said Rogers Anyplace TV is a type of Netflix competitor already, adding that cable and broadcast companies in the United States are now outbidding Netflix for content.
Through Rogers on-demand service, customers can watch recent episodes of television shows for free, but pay to watch a movie.
U.S. cable company Comcast has launched Streampix to compete with Netflix, and Shaw Communications has a launched an on-demand movie club to compete. Rogers said at least two other major Canadian TV providers are considering launching their own services, similar to Netflix.
“Bell will not be unique or exclusive in this marketplace,” said David Purdy, senior vice-president of content at Rogers.
“They will be unique if they’ve used it for some justification for a transaction like this,” Purdy said.
Bell’s service would be available on demand on any device, and showcase Canadian and international movies from Astral’s pay TV services, such as HBO Canada and The Movie Network, as well as news, sports and entertainment content from Bell Media.
Rogers made its case Wednesday, the third day of CRTC hearings into whether telecom giant Bell should be allowed to forge the deal that would make it even larger.
Bell’s parent BCE Inc. already owns the CTV television network and former Chum radio group as well as their extensive list of specialty television channels and Bell Canada, the country’s largest telecom company.
Rogers also said it’s opposed to the deal unless the CRTC forces Bell to get rid of Astral’s English specialty channels, such as The Movie Network, HBO Canada, and Family Channel.
It may be interested in Astral’s English-language TV channels, but “we would be perfectly fine with someone else buying those assets,” Engelhart told reporters after his remarks.
Rogers told the CRTC that it has had problems getting access to Bell’s TV content for its services, a “stark contract to our relationship with Astral over the last decade.”