Competition Bureau OKs Bell’s Astral takeover re-jig; must still face CRTC scrutiny

5 Mar 2013

BCE, the parent of Bell Canada, has received Competition Bureau clearance for a revised proposal to take over broadcasting group Astral Media and merge it with its Bell Media division. However, the transaction also requires approval by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which rejected BCE’s earlier purchase offer last October on anti-monopoly grounds.

The Competition Bureau approved a new proposed deal under which Bell would divest various Astral TV services while retaining eight TV channels: The Movie Network (including HBO Canada), TMN Encore and six French-language channels – SuperEcran, CinePop, Canal Vie, Canal D, VRAK TV and Z Tele. A similar compromise was proposed regarding radio assets. Overall, BCE says the transactions would result in Bell Media having a French-language TV viewing share of 23.0%, below competitor Quebecor’s 30.5% share, while in English-language viewership, Bell Media would gain two percentage points to give it a 35.7% share. Under the proposal, Corus has agreed to acquire Astral’s share of six TV joint ventures, valued at a total of CAD400 million (USD389 million), subject to regulatory approvals, while Bell plans to sell five other channels through an auction process that is already under way.

The CAD3.38 billion deal to join Astral and Bell Media was originally announced in March 2012, but due to the need to gain regulatory approval, Astral and Bell extended the date for closing the transaction to 1 June 2013, with both parties having the right to postpone it further to 31 July 2013. The CRTC will this week set a date for public hearings on the latest proposals.

Canada, BCE (old), Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE)