Bell expanding TMN into national pay TV service; to be sole operator of HBO Canada

MONTREAL – A swift change between Bell’s parent company and Corus Entertainment will see the elimination of pay TV channel Movie Central in Western and Northern Canada as The Movie Network goes national.

The move comes as Corus Entertainment announced plans Thursday to back out of the pay TV business for movies, which has been pressured by recent entrants like Netflix, Shomi and Crave.

As part of the changes, BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) will expand The Movie Network across the country before the end of March.

Corus is also waiving its HBO content licensing rights in Canada to allow Bell Media to become the sole operator of HBO Canada nationally across all platforms.

Bell says its new partnership with HBO gives it right to the exclusive right to deliver all current and past HBO programming on streaming platforms like CraveTV in English and French across Canada.

The Movie Network, formerly available only in Eastern Canada, will launch as a national pay TV platform in the first quarter of 2016, increasing its customer base to a total of about two million subscribers.

The companies said Bell and Corus are working to provide a seamless transition of Movie Central and Encore Avenue subscribers to TMN.

BCE will pay Corus $211 million, $195 million net of tax benefits, to support the national expansion of TMN and HBO Canada.

Corus will also do away with classic movie channel Encore Avenue, while Bell plans to roll out its The Movie Network Encore channel nationwide.

“Bell Media now has the national scale required to create, negotiate and deliver more premium TV programming to Canadian consumers across more platforms and more quickly than ever before,” Mary Ann Turcke, president of Bell Media, said in a statement announcing the deal.

“Our extensive new content agreement with HBO also announced today, for both traditional TV and next-generation platforms like CraveTV and with significant original co-production opportunities, is a great example of the benefits for Canadian viewers nationwide.”

For its part, Corus said has decided to focus on its biggest growth opportunities — national media brands targeted to kids, women and families — after a strategic review.

“Therefore, we have decided to exit our regional pay TV business concurrent with Bell Media’s plans to expand their premium offering nationally,” said Doug Murphy, president and chief executive officer of Corus Entertainment.

“We have always believed that the best way to serve pay TV subscribers is through a national operator and brand.”

To ensure continuity for subscribers, Corus said it will continue to operate Movie Central, Encore Avenue and HBO Canada until Bell Media’s national pay TV service is available in Western Canada.