Media Beat: January 26, 2018

Rogers bats idea of selling Blue Jays

Rogers Communications Inc. is considering the sale of assets such as baseball's Toronto Blue Jays and its stake in a smaller cable and media company to free up capital for its main communications businesses.

The media giant's chief financial officer Tony Staffieri said Tuesday at an industry conference that the company is looking for ways to "surface value" from the Blue Jays – which he said is a "very valuable asset for us that we don't get full credit for." – The Canadian Press

Starz and Bell Media to rebrand pay TV channel TMN Encore

Bell Media has signed a multi-year content deal with Starz, the No. 2-ranked premium paid U.S. television platform featuring original hit series such as "American Gods," "The White Princess," "Power," "Survivor's Remorse" and "Ash vs. Evil Dead."

As part of the deal, the channel The Movie Network Encore will get Starz branding next year.

The brand-new Starz spy thriller “Counterpart” launched Sunday on CraveTV. Starz has more on the way, including a new adaptation of “Howards End.”

Negotiations had been going on for about a year, with officials at Lionsgate entertainment corporation with roots in Vancouver brokering the deal.

Lionsgate acquired Starz in 2016 for a reported US$4.4B.

This is the first time, however, that the entire Starz brand has entered Canada or any other territory outside the US.

For Bell, the deal brings all three of the top US premium brands – HBO, Starz and Showtime – under their content tent in Canada.

“Clearly there’s a digital play,” says Bell Media president Randy Lennox. “Clearly there’s a content play, and incidentally, there’s reciprocity in the content play. We have some very active programming and content creation here that (Starz) will be a big brother on, if you will.”

Terms of the deal were not announced. Negotiations seem to have been strictly between Bell Media and Lionsgate. “I certainly didn’t sense that there was anyone else in the room,” says Lennox.

The success of over-the-top content providers such as Netflix and Amazon, with millions of worldwide subscribers, has opened all eyes in television to a more borderless business model. HBO has made aggressive moves towards taking their brand outside America, especially in on-demand, streaming platforms. Starz wants in on the same international playing field.

Bell’s move to “big up” on the content front comes amidst increasing competition from Netflix and others. As Lennox says, “there are a growing number of competitors in the market. Five years ago there were probably five. I count at least 22 today.” – Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press

Rogers cuts ties with Vice, pulls Viceland

Rogers and Vice have terminated their joint venture that saw Vice make exclusive content to be broadcast on Rogers networks.

In a release on Monday, Vice Canada said it had acquired full ownership of its own studio business, which had previously been shared with Rogers Media under a two-year $100M deal that launched in 2016.

It’s branded Viceland channel will cease broadcasting on March 31, but Vice insists the end of the deal does not mean the end of its Canadian operations. "Vice Canada will be announcing new partnerships in the Canadian market soon," Vice said in a release, adding that the company's news website is unaffected.

Vice produced 130 hours of Canadian programming under the deal, and the company says much more is coming.

"Vice will continue to grow in Canada in 2018," Vice Canada president Ryan Archibald said in a release. "We have a lot of opportunities ahead of us and will be announcing some new exciting partnerships soon."

For its part, Rogers says it plans to evolve its content-delivery strategy. "We plan to redirect our Canadian content funding to other Canadian content initiatives that better align with our portfolio and brands," Rogers said in a separate release.

Neither Rogers nor Vice would consent to interviews with executives. Rogers spokeswoman Andrea Goldstein said in an email her company alone had spent $100M through the joint venture on the creation of Canadian content, the studio and the TV channel.

Carmi Levy, a London, Ont.-based media analyst, said Rogers is likely the partner that decided to pull the plug.

"When you engage in a partnership of this type, I think both sides, and especially a telecom of the scale of Rogers, would expect some kind of return," he said.

"Here you are just over three years into the deal and obviously the returns aren't where they'd like them to be."

He said it's difficult to tell what Vice's viewership was because those numbers haven't been separately disclosed. – CBC, Inside Toronto

Media magnate Peladeau evasive about potential return to politics

Quebec telecom and media magnate Pierre Karl Peladeau renewed speculation Tuesday he is considering a return to politics.

His abrupt departure in May 2016 as head of the Parti Quebecois was against his will and due to family reasons, he told Radio-Canada.

But things have changed since then, he suggested.

"Obviously I remain ready for the (political) moment," Peladeau said, unprompted, to the radio host during a wide-ranging interview. "Maybe, eventually you would have asked me about that."

Anyone following the social media posts of the self-avowed nationalist who wanted to be leader of an independent Quebec will not be surprised he is not closing the door to an eventual political comeback.

As head of Quebecor Inc., Peladeau owns some of the most popular media and telecom properties in the country and the businessman isn't shy about using his influence and profile to publicly criticize his opponents.

He has come out strongly against the Quebec Liberal's investment in aerospace giant Bombardier, as well as the government's recent multimillion-dollar aid package to newspaper companies in competition with his own. – Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

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