TVA Sports goes dark on Bell TV amidst Quebecor carriage dispute

TVA Sports has gone dark on Bell TV in Quebec, amidst an ongoing carriage dispute between Bell and Quebecor.

In an update for subscribers posted to its website Wednesday evening, Bell says it will temporarily offer Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360 at no additional cost, to ensure that its customers don’t miss any NHL playoff games.

TVA Sports had cautioned Bell customers the move was coming, airing a message during the Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs matchup Saturday night that the sports channel, which has the French-language rights to NHL playoff games, would be removed from Bell TV.

Bell says the move contravenes two CRTC directives, issued on Apr. 8 and 10, requiring Quebecor, which also owns cable service provider Videotron, to continue to provide TVA Sports to Bell customers.

“The CRTC has made it quite clear to Quebecor that it must comply with the law and continue to provide TVA Sports to Bell customers who’ve paid for it. It’s highly inappropriate for Quebecor to make these threats to illegally deny service and in effect take viewers hostage over a business disagreement,” said Martine Turcotte, Bell’s Vice Chair, Québec, in a press release. “We’ve always negotiated in good faith and invite Quebecor to do the same.”

According to the CRTC’s decision, Quebecor is “required to provide” TVA Sports to Bell TV “at the same rates and on the same terms and conditions as they did before the dispute, until the parties resolve their dispute or the commission issues a decision concerning this unresolved matter.” Bell has filed a request with the CRTC to resolve the dispute by way of final offer arbitration.

“Inequitable situation”: Quebecor

While carriage negotiations are usually confidential, Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau has revealed that Bell is paying $3.59/month per subscriber for TVA Sports. TVA is renegotiating at $5.06. Bell says that’s more than Videotron pays it for the RDS network.

Peladeau maintains that Bell and its specialty channels enjoy an unfair advantage based on historical criteria rooted in its former monopoly status.

“This inequitable situation does not reflect current realities in the television industry. Quebecor is therefore calling for carriage rates to be based on performance criteria that reflect viewers’ interests. Bell must surrender its historical privileges,” states a Quebecor release. “Quebecor’s goal in making this case is to enable specialty channels to innovate and offer original content, without increasing the bill for consumers. At the end of the day, this will mean fairer sharing of the revenue pie from the subscription fees paid by broadcasting distribution undertakings for all specialty channels.”

“When Bell increases the carriage rates for its specialty channels even as their ratings are declining, does it benefit viewers? When Bell offers RDS at no extra charge but makes its customers pay an extra $14 for TVA Sports, does that benefit viewers?”

Peladeau also takes issue with TVA Sports’ exclusion from Bell’s popular “Good” or “Bon” package, which includes RDS.

“We don’t want to increase the bill for consumers,” said Péladeau. “What we want is to redistribute subscription fees based on performance rather than historical criteria. Consumers are paying too much for Bell’s channels. Those fees should be redirected to channels, including TVA’s, that have been able to innovate and create competition, for the benefit of television viewers.”

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