Bell’s Astral acquisition cleared

28 Jun 2013

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has approved Bell Canada Enterprises’ (BCE’s) CAD3.4 billion (USD3.25 billion) takeover of broadcaster Astral Media’s television and radio channels, after the two parties revised the terms of the deal to address anti-monopoly concerns, while the regulator imposed additional conditions to ‘uphold the public interest.’ The conditions of the approved transaction require BCE to invest in new Canadian programming and sell eleven TV services and ten radio stations while obeying conditions such as a prohibition on imposing restrictive bundling requirements on providers. The CRTC said that its decision includes specific measures designed to ‘attenuate concerns related to competition, ownership concentration in the television and radio markets, vertical integration and the exercise of market power in the communications system.’ Following the required divestitures, BCE’s shares of the English-language and French-language TV markets will be 35.8% and 22.6% respectively. BCE will be required to invest CAD247 million in Canadian TV, film and radio development initiatives over the next seven years (CAD72 million more than BCE proposed), and it must keep open all of its existing and new local television stations until at least 2017. TeleGeography says BCE will integrate Astral into its Bell Media division, mainly to improve its competitive position against Quebecor, parent of pay-TV and telecoms operator Videotron in largely-francophone Quebec; at end-March 2013 Bell’s pay-TV services had a total customer base of 2.17 million, including 296,000 IPTV subscribers (up by 176,000 in twelve months) and 1.874 million satellite subscribers (a net annual decline of 118,000). The first attempt at closing the Astral takeover in March 2012 was vetoed by the CRTC on the grounds that it gave Bell an unfair level of control of the television market.

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

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