Montreal

Quebecor proposes a truce in battle with Bell over TVA Sports channel

Quebecor cut its TVA Sports signal to all Bell TV subscribers minutes before the start of the NHL playoffs on Wednesday, but it's now offering to restore it.

Media giants in ongoing dispute over channel royalties

Quebecor and Bell are locked in bitter negotiations over the licence fees for each other's specialty sports channels. (Graham Hughes and Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Lawyers for Quebecor have proposed a truce with Bell, offering to restore the signal for its TVA Sports channel to Bell TV customers later this evening.

On Wednesday, Quebecor cut the signal minutes before the start of the NHL playoffs, leaving hockey fans who wanted to watch the games in French in the lurch — and metaphorically dropping the gloves in an ongoing dispute between Canadian media giants.

Quebecor's peace offering, which would entail the signal being back online by 6 p.m., caught Bell off guard. Representatives for the two companies were in Quebec Superior Court Thursday because Bell was seeking an injunction to force Quebecor to restore the feed. A decision on the injunction request is expected Friday.

Quebecor is now offering to restore the feed, if Bell agrees to take part in a mediation session proposed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). 

The two companies are locked in bitter negotiations over the licence fees for each other's specialty sports channels. 

TVA Sports, owned by Quebecor, has exclusive French-language broadcasting rights to the NHL playoffs. Quebecor claims that Bell is not granting royalties that reflect the "fair value" of its specialty channels, including LCN, but especially TVA Sports.

Hockey fans trying to tune in to last night's playoff game instead saw a message from Bell, calling Quebecor's decision to pull the signal "illegal" and offering free access to English sports channels.

In following through on its threat to block the signal, Quebecor ignored a warning from the CRTC that cutting off access to the channel would be against the rules.

CRTC hearing scheduled for next week

Earlier Thursday, the federal telecommunications regulator called TVA Group Inc., the Quebecor subsidiary that runs TVA Sports, to a hearing on April 17 in Gatineau to determine whether it is violating regulations.

Bell is invited to appear because it is directly affected by the dispute.

In court on the injunction request Thursday, Bell filed exhibits allegedly showing a number of Quebecor campaigns about TV subscription options that take aim at Bell.

A screenshot of a banner on top of the feed of an April 6 hockey game between Montreal and Toronto, submitted by Bell to Quebec Superior Court on Thursday, April 11. (Submitted to Quebec Superior Court)

There is a central website and a number of ads online and in print, including one that says, in French, "Bell: unsportsmanlike conduct." 

The court filing includes photographs of a TV screen showing the April 6 NHL game between Montreal and Toronto, with a crawl across the screen that says "Bell has decided to penalize you."

Viewers were invited them to subscribe to other TV services, such as Videotron — also owned by Quebecor.

With files from Radio-Canada

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