The Bell coalition website blocking proposal places considerable emphasis on the impact of cord cutting, a reference to television subscribers canceling their service. Earlier this week, I blogged about CMPA data that called into question claims of negative impacts on the industry, with the actual data confirming record investment in Canadian television and film production and more than a billion dollars being spent annually by consumers on authorized video services such as Netflix, CraveTV, and Club illico.
While the Bell coalition wants the CRTC to believe that there is urgent problem requiring a radical regulatory solution (it acknowledges the CRTC can only authorize blocking in exceptional circumstances that further the objectives of the Telecommunications Act), Bell’s own commentary to financial analysts strike a much different tone. During yesterday’s quarterly earnings conference call with analysts, Bell executives said absolutely nothing about piracy or website blocking, instead emphasizing the success of both its TV and online streaming services. For example, CEO George Cope stated:
So IPTV, I think, was also – I think, we’ve reviewed a strong with 32,000 net adds and was our best quarter for satellite TV since Q2 2014, where we saw an improvement this year in losses of 30%. Overall, we added 11,000 new TV subscribers in our wireline footprint, and we also continue to see an acceleration in the rates of decline of NAS losses. So 34% less customers on last year left us, and in fact, for another quarter, I think, that’s four quarters in a row, in our fiber footprint, we’ve actually had positive NAS growth.
In other words, Bell is adding subscribers and overall declines are slowing down. In fact, Cope noted Internet streaming was a key source of growth:
Crave strategy continues to work for us number of customers up 22% year-over-year, allowing us to have a product that you can view through traditional linear TV or and over-the-top environment.
The positive data sparked a question from Drew McReynolds about the rate of cord cutting:
on cord cutting, cord shaving trends overall, you are obviously doing quite well on Crave and Alt TV, wondering if you’re seeing in the TV market a real structural acceleration, let’s say over the last 6 to 12 months or is it more of a steady acceleration or steady kind of rate of cord cutting, cord shaving?
It seems steady to me – clearly we have not seen some acceleration, but we notice a growing share and we got to be in, you know we absolutely have to be in that space in the market place, so we actually saw some growth and you know from a pay sub perspective, but we haven’t seen a sudden acceleration and you can – the industry will now take the total TV net adds and be able to see that you know the decline in, and I don’t think that rate has accelerated
Telling regulators one thing and emphasizing something different to business analysts is nothing new. In 2016, I noted that Bell told cabinet that its scale of investment in fibre would be affected by a CRTC decision even as a company executive told a business audience that Bell’s plan was to eliminate their copper network altogether. Indeed, then-chair Jean-Pierre Blais noticed it too:
Oddly enough, as they were saying one thing to us about slowing down investments, they were having a completely different dialogue with the investors and saying quite the opposite. I don’t know what they think we read and don’t read, but I’ve got some very, very smart people working for me at the CRTC and we read investor reports, we read what’s in the news, we know what’s happening. So it goes straight to credibility when you make arguments in front of us one day and take a completely different position when you’re in an investor or shareholder call.
The current CRTC chair Ian Scott would do well to ask the Bell coalition why it says one thing in its application for website blocking and paints a much different picture on the state of its business on investor calls.