Bell Canada Enterprises (Canada)

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BCE is Canada's biggest communications group. Its main business is Bell Canada, the country's foremost telecoms provider, offering a full range of services, including local and long-distance telecoms, wireless, cable and internet services. The group is also involved in satellite and cable television, and became the country's biggest mediaowner at the end of 2011 with the acquisition of full control of top broadcaster CTV as well as a collection of cable and sports assets. Unlike its US counterparts, BCE co-exists quite amicably with its main domestic rival Rogers. The two companies jointly own several sports franchises and mobile retail chains.

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Advertising

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Competitors

BCE's fiercest competitor is Rogers, in wireless, cable, media and now local phone services. Others include Shaw Companies in internet, cable communications and media, and Telus in fixed, wireless and internet services in Western Canada. See Telecoms & Wireless and Media Sector indexes for other companies

Contact

Bell Canada
1 Carrefour Alexander Graham Bell
Verdun, Quebec H3E 3B3
Canada
Tel: 1 888 932 6666

Recent stories from Adbrands Weekly Update:

Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Nov 2015: Ads of the Week: "Poppy". Christmas ads have been coming thick and fast this week, but another annual event in quite a different spirit comes first in the calendar. We Brits often don't realise that we're not the only nation to mark Remembrance Day this weekend. Here's a deeply moving spot by Leo Burnett Canada for local telecoms giant Bell commemorating the Canadian soldiers who fought in the two World Wars. Be prepared to wipe away a tear. That's WWII veteran and former Royal Canadian Artillery gunner Norman Cash, by the way, a sprightly looking 96 years of age. On the bus, retired captain Aida Gabriel, a Canadian veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan.

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Brands & Activities

BCE is Canada's biggest telecoms company, although it has suffered considerable erosion of its fixed line service from rivals and a shift towards mobile. Total accesses of 6.7m connections were down 6% on the year before, serviced either direct under the main Bell Canada banner, or through regional subsidiaries. The biggest of these is Bell Aliant, the telecoms provider serving the Atlantic seaboard, rural Ontario and Quebec. BCE reacquired the 56% of Bell Aliant it didn't already own at the end of 2014. It had previously been publicly quoted.

The group's fixed line service is supported by wireless service Bell Mobility, the country's joint #2 by revenues (with Telus) and #3 by subscribers with a total of 8.25m subscribers by the end of 2015, equivalent to 28% share. (Rogers remains the market leader with 34%; Telus had 29% in 2015). However Bell claims the broadest coverage, with a regional footprint four times that of Rogers. Solo Mobile is a subsidiary brand aimed at the youth market. In 2005, the group launched Virgin Mobile Canada, an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) joint venture with Richard Branson's Virgin group similar to those run by Virgin in other countries. It bought out Branson's shareholding in 2009 to take full control of the business, although it retains the Virgin name.

The group also operates its own extensive Bell Store retail chain to sell mobile handsets and services. In early 2009, it agreed to rescue the local operations of failed US retail group Circuit City, which trade as The Source, with around 750 outlets across the country. This competes directly with Rogers' rival retail network. In 2015 the group acquired another North American mobile retail operator Glentel, owner of the Tbooth, WirelessWave and Wireless Etc chains, and sold on a 50% stake to Rogers.

Also in 2005 BCE agreed an unprecedented alliance with Rogers to develop a national wireless broadband network in Canada. The group is already a leading force in dial-up, broadband and cable internet and broadcast services. The main internet service was traditionally routed via ISP Sympatico. For several years this was a joint venture with Microsoft's MSN, but the two partners separated in 2009, and Sympatico is now wholly owned by Bell. The group relaunched the Sympatico service in 2012 under new name TheLoop to emphasise its broader offering beyond search.

The group also offers a high-speed broadband service with streaming and video-on-demand. Around 3.4m Canadian households subscribe to Bell high-speed internet, and another 1.6m to the company's direct-to-home satellite TV offering. That business, originally Bell ExpressVu, is now rebranded as Bell TV, and offers a selection of more than 500 video and audio channels. It is now supported by a cable-based service, Fibe TV (with 480k subscribers) and other broadband-based services including cloud storage.

BCE has gradually extricated itself from international investments, primarily in Latin America, to concentrate on its home market. It sold its yellow pages division in 2002 for C$3bn, and spun off e-commerce consultancy Emergis to shareholders in 2004. Satellite communications unit Telesat was spun off into a separate entity in 2007. 

BCE has also ranked for several years as one of Canada's dominant mediaowners, although until recently this ownership was shared with partners. Bell Globemedia was formed in 2000 as a joint venture with Canada's Thomson family, combining Canada's #1 television network CTV with leading daily national newspaper The Globe and Mail, as well as a collection of regional TV and radio stations. At the end of 2005, BCE and the Thomson family swapped shareholdings, with BCE transferring majority control to the Thomson investment vehicle Woodbridge. The business adopted a new name of CTVGlobemedia. In another restructuring of their respective holdings, BCE and Woodbridge agreed in 2010 to break up CTVGlobemedia. BCE assumed full control of CTV, while Woodbridge took charge of 85% of The Globe and Mail. BCE retains the remaining 15%. That deal was approved by regulators in early 2011. In 2012, the newly renamed Bell Media division announced plans to acquire Quebec-based Astral Media, the country's largest broadcaster of pay-TV channels, as well as the largest radio owner and a leading player in outdoor advertising. However the original deal was blocked by regulators. A revised deal worth $3.4bn was approved in June 2013 after Bell agreed to sell off some of Astral's smaller speciality channels. Other interests include the TSN and RDS sports networks and a collection of speciality cable channels. Bell has a leading 31% share of the English language TV market, ahead of Shaw and Corus; and 20% of the Francophone sector behind market leader Quebecor.

Bell is also joint shareholder with Rogers of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns several leading sports teams and venues including the Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey team, Toronto Raptors basketball team and Toronto FC soccer club. 

BCE's corporate and legal status has been the subject of much discussion in recent years. For tax purposes, BCE announced plans to change its legal status from a corporation to an income trust during 2006. Those plans were later dropped following a change in tax legislation. A year later, in a move motivated mainly by fears of a potential takeover bid from an American or European telecoms group, BCE's largest shareholder, Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, began assembling a private equity bid for the business. That offer, backed by two private equity funds and worth almost C$52bn (US$49bn), was accepted by Bell Canada's board and shareholders towards the end of 2007. Ontario Teachers had hoped to close the deal by mid 2008, but the turmoil in global credit markets created serious obstacles to the deal and it finally collapsed at the end of the year. As a result BCE remains a traditional publicly quoted company.

Financials

BCE's total revenues for 2015 rose 2% to C$21.51bn. Net earnings were flat at C$2.73bn. Unlike telecoms groups operating in more populous countries, the largest share of revenues still comes from fixed line. Bell Wireline contributed revenues of C$12.26bn, almost twice the C$6.88bn contributed by Bell Wireless. Bell Media added a further C$2.64bn of external revenues.

Management

George Cope is president & CEO; Gordon Nixon succeeded Tom O'Neill as chairman in 2016. Other senior officers include Wade Oosterman (group president, Bell Canada & BCE), Blaik Kirby (president, Bell Mobility), John Watson (EVP, customer experience), Bernard Le Duc (EVP, corporate services),Glen LeBlanc (EVP & CFO), Mirko Bibic (EVP, corporate development), Mary Ann Turcke (president Bell Media), Rizwan Jamal (president, Bell residential services), Tom Little (president, Bell business markets), Kevin Crull (president, Bell Media) and Charles Brown (president, The Source). 

Markerters include Rick Seifeddine (SVP, brand, Bell Canada), Nicolas Poitras (VP, marketing communications, Bell Canada), Loring Phinney (VP, corporate marketing), Devorah Lithwick (VP, marketing communications, Bell Mobility), Claire Gillies (VP, marketing campaigns & pricing), Olivia Ibell (VP, strategy & business intelligence), Kevin Cluett (VP, residential marketing, Bell Canada) and Floyd Rocha (VP, marketing, Virgin Mobile Canada).

Background

Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, was in fact Canadian by birth, but he moved south of the border before he invented that device in 1876. Initially he assigned control of the Canadian rights to his invention to his father, Alexander Melville Bell, who conducted a series of lectures to introduce the concept to Canadian consumers. This led to considerable interest from commercial organisations and Bell Sr eventually granted a license to the Dominion Telegraph Company to market the Bell telephone to the public. At the same time however, another company had secured a separate agreement with Thomas Edison's rival device. Chaos ensued as both companies fought to sell their incompatible systems to Canadian customers. Worse still, separate networks were established in each of the main cities, so users were only able to make local calls and could not communicate with other cities in Canada.

To resolve this confusion, The American Bell Telephone Company, later to become AT&T, decided to establish its own presence in Canada, forming The Bell Telephone Company of Canada in 1880, under the control of Charles Fleetford Sise. He promptly acquired the company which had been marketing Edison's device in order to market a single system. Among other initiatives, he also set about establishing long-distance lines to connect networks in different cities. This alone took several years. The first telephone call between Montreal, where the business was headquartered, and Vancouver didn't take place until 1916. Sise also established manufacturing subsidiary Northern Electric (later to become telecoms equipment company Nortel Networks). 

American Bell gradually sold its stake in its northern offshoot, now Bell Canada, reducing its ownership to just 5% by the 1920s, before pulling out completely in the 1970s. Holding company BCE was created in 1983 and dabbled unsuccessfully in various other sectors before concentrating on telecoms. The group restructured in 2000, selling off its controlling stake in Nortel Networks, and buying television broadcaster CTV. This was merged with national newspaper The Globe and Mail (acquired from Thomson) and its internet arm Sympatico to form Bell Globemedia. In 2002, BCE bought out the 20% stake owned by minority shareholder SBC

Last full revision 4th April 2016


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