April 9, 2019 6 months 2 weeks ago

Quebecor versus Bell: What happens next, if TVA Sports is removed from Bell TV

SHOULD QUEBECOR FOLLOW through on its threat to take TVA Sports away from Bell TV customers (which seems sure to happen, given this tweet from Quebecor’s SVP, corporate and institutional affairs Serge Sasseville), what exactly might happen then? We talked to a broadcast policy legal expert (one with no skin in this game).

Such a move, for a licence holder to openly defy CRTC regulations like this, is pretty much unprecedented, to begin with.

According to Québecor, it will stop providing the TVA Sports signal to Bell TV at 7 p.m. on Wednesday April 10th (the first game of the NHL playoffs).

At 7:01, Bell would then send a letter to the CRTC, stating TVA Sports (and/or other of their speciality channels) is not being received by Bell TV.

As we noted in a story yesterday, Commission staff has already determined pulling the signal would be a violation of the long-standing standstill rule. The Regulator would then send a letter to Québecor asking them to confirm Bell’s assertion and give the broadcaster a strict deadline to respond.

The CRTC could then issue a fine under Section 32(2) of the Broadcasting Act for $250,000 to $500,000 per offense and could issue a mandatory order after a hearing (which of course takes time) for violation of the regulations (the standstill rule) and file an order with the Federal Court which would constitute a Court Order. Failure to comply would result in Contempt of Court, and then Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau could go to jail.

Bell could go to court and seek an injunction, but irreparable harm would be hard to prove since both the Canadiens and the Senators did not make the playoffs (and many games are available, albeit in English, on CBC and Sportsnet). Bell has already indicated it is prepared for court since “they have already caused significant commercial harm to the Bell Platforms by directing our subscribers to other distribution undertakings”, as it said in its letter to the CRTC on April 7th, as we reported.

The CRTC has a great interest in ensuring the integrity of the process to ensure it can maintain the complex system of the contractual relationship between BDUs and signal providers (so does the federal government, for that matter).

Suddenly it is not just between Bell and Québecor, but it goes at the heart of the system and then Péladeau might be right in saying the system is broken – but only if he breaks it.