This week kicked off the regulatory hearings into Bell Canada’s proposed $3.4 billion takeover of Astral Media, owner of a host of radio and television stations. Bell certainly didn’t hold back on the surprises, with chief executive George Cope announcing that the company intends to launch a video streaming service that will compete with Netflix.
In doing so, he waved the Canadian flag, criticizing Netflix for not paying Canadian taxes or paying into supporting the creation of Canadian content:
(It’s) a made-in-Canada service — available in English and French everywhere we have rights — to all Canadians through the cable, satellite or IPTV provider of their choice. Combining the unique pay TV strengths of Astral with Bell Media’s broad range of programming will create a Canadian service that truly stands apart from those of international providers… The Canadian system needs companies with the scale to compete against foreign content companies like Netflix, Apple, Google and Amazon.
Cope didn’t provide any details, such as what Bell’s offering will cost or when it will launch, although he did make it sound like the streaming service - I’m dubbing it Bellflix - is contingent on the CRTC approving the takeover. The company will, after all, need access to Astral’s content library to make it happen.
CRTC broadcasting vice-chairman Tom Pentefountas was right to be skeptical when he asked Cope if he was “pulling rabbits out of his hat” by making product announcements at a regulatory hearing. Bell’s CEO responded that he was forced into the announcement by critics of the proposed deal - he wants people to know about the positives that will result from it.
Optics aside, there’s no assurance anyone would want Bellflix even if it does happen. The main reason for that is something called core competency - just because you’ve got the content, that doesn’t mean you know how to run an online streaming business. Bell attempted to go toe-to-toe with iTunes a few years ago by launching a video download store. It quietly folded the effort only a year later after finding that consumers were simply more willing to use Apple’s vastly superior product.
The bigger obstacle to Bellflix is an amazing conceit that seems lost on Cope. Netflix’s tremendous success in Canada - snatching up about 10 per cent of broadband subscribers in less than two years, compared to six years in the U.S. - may just be because Canadians are looking to get away from traditional video providers such as Bell.
Would these same sorts of subscribers ditch Netflix and go back to Bell? The phone company might be able to offer better content, but given its track record in telecommunications, it’s unlikely to be at a better value. While it’s obviously way too early to declare Bellflix dead on arrival, it’s not exactly a service that anyone can’t wait to use.
By the way, if Canadian content is what you’re after, the non-profit First Weekend Club is planning on soon launching an on-demand streaming platform starring the best in Canadian cinema. No multibillion-dollar-takeover needed.
Zippity Do Da
September 11, 2012 at 12:20 am
Another huge hurdle for Bellflix to overcome is the client deployment. I use Apple TV and you know Bellflix will never get a slot on their client page. How about all the smart TVs with their numerous apps built in? I doubt Bellflix will ever wind up on a Samsung or Sony TV.
It’s like Zip.ca’s long promised streaming service. It’s vaporware and always will be. The content providers shaft the Canadian version of Netflix making it a poor cousin to the U.S. offering, so another Canadian contender simply won’t have the clout to convince the movie and TV studios to provide quality content at an affordable price for the Canadian market.
Bell has deep pockets, so it might be able to throw money at the studios, but Bell would either lose money or be forced to charge rates much higher than Netflix.
My prediction? Bellflix will never be anything more than a (crack) pipe dream. Zip.ca made the stupid mistake of announcing a product, many times, and still there’s nothing to show for it.
Zip says, “We’re disappointed to say that, for the near future, we do not anticipate that the industry will create a model that better meets the movie-watching needs of Canadian consumers.” – http://www.zip.ca/Streaming/
Bell is up to their usual misdirection tactics. When will they ever learn we’re on to them?
September 11, 2012 at 11:04 am
At a previous CRTC hearing Zip.ca said they wanted to do a streaming service but it was much cheaper to actually mail out dvd’s rather than pay the incumbents fee’s for internet. KvF was actually shocked that it was cheaper. (He still allowed the incumbents to charge high rates anyway to the IISP’s but it was an eye opener)
September 11, 2012 at 10:59 am
By making you have a tv subcription to get it,does that not make it tied selling?Anyway I never buy it just because bell will own it and it will be costly and not user friendly and I’m not getting a tv subscription
September 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm
Rogers had a on-demand branded website for streaming content which I looked at and, after beating my head against some pretty broken technology, managed to watch an entire movie. The commercials showed up in the stupidest of places, and the pause for the commercial wasn’t perfect (and thus you missed parts). It barely worked on my desktop, and didn’t work on any other devices I own.
Netflix won’t run on my desktop (Ubuntu Linux), but works on my Boxee box, my Android tablet and phones, my mothers Samsung TV, and my wife’s Google Chromebook.
Sorry, but I bet Bell’s offering would work on about as many devices as the Rogers one did, meaning it would be irrelevant. Closed platforms have this problem, and the more closed minded one is (and Bell is very bad on this) the fewer devices and thus the less useful the service is.
Since Bellusogers has generally been incompetent for decades, I have done everything I can to move away from any of their service offerings. I use WIND for cellular, Teksavvy for home phone and Internet, and Netflix and DVD’s for TV-like content: no Bell, Telus or Rogers services for us. Even if one of them did manage to do something right I would still not be interested, given they spent far more time in their history trying to squash competition rather than offer useful products and services.