Bell Canada gets Competition Bureau clearance for Astral acquisition

Bell Canada (NYSE: BCE) on Tuesday cleared another major hurdle in its effort to acquire Astral Media when it got the Competition Bureau's approval to proceed with the proposed acquisition. The telco still needs to get the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's (CRTC) approval.

To gain the Competition Bureau's approval, Bell Canada agreed to sell a number of Astral TV services. Bell Media will retain the French-language SuperEcran, CinePop, Canal Vie, Canal D, VRAK TV and Z Tele as well as the English-language service The Movie Network, which includes HBO Canada and TMN Encore.

Under the terms of the agreement Bell and Astral made with Competition Bureau and the amended filing they submitted to the CRTC, the two companies will sell a number of TV assets to Corus: Astral's share of six TV joint ventures including the bilingual Teletoon/Teletoon service, English-language Teletoon Retro and Cartoon Network (Canada), and French-language Teletoon Retro, Historia and Séries+ for CAD 400.6 million ($389.5 million). Corus will also acquire two of Astral's radio stations in Ottawa, CKQB-FM and CJOT-FM. Corus' acquisitions are also subject to regulatory approval.

Bell Canada agreed to sell English-language Family (including Disney Junior English) and Disney XD services, and the French-language Disney Junior, Musimax and MusiquePlus services in addition to divesting 10 English-language radio stations in an auction.

When the divestitures are completed, Bell Media will have a French-language viewing share of 23 percent and a 35.7 percent share of English-language viewership, which is 2 percent more than its current share.  

Last October, the CRTC rejected Bell Canada's initial acquisition proposal amidst protest from both Telus (Toronto: T.TO) and Canadian cable operator Quebecor.

At that time, Telus argued that if the deal had been approved it would have given BCE a "monopoly advantage." The telco argued that Bell would have had a 49.5 percent share of the English-language TV audience in Canada.

Bell Canada and Astral submitted a revised merger proposal to address the CRTC's concerns.

Although Astral's shareholders approved the deal, the two companies set a new date of June 1, 2013, as the closing date, with the option to postpone to July 31.

For more:
- see the release

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