Bell Canada's Astral acquisition gets CRTC approval, with conditions

Bell Canada Enterprises (NYSE: BCE), the parent company of Bell Canada, has received the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's (CRTC's) approval of its $2.9 billion acquisition of broadcaster Astral Media with a number of conditions. With this final approval in place, they will complete the deal on July 5.

In approving the transaction, the CRTC said its conditions are 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."

These include the requirement that BCE invest $234.4 million in programming and sell 11 TV services and ten radio stations while ensuring that it doesnt impose restrictive bundling requirements on competitors. When BCE completes these divestitures, they will have a 35.8 and 22.6 percent share of Canada's English-language and French-language TV markets.

The combined company will be overseen by a team of senior Astral and Bell Media executives. Also, Bell Media will also open new regional development offices in Halifax, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Astral's President and CEO Ian Greenberg will also join BCE's board of directors.

"Together, Astral and Bell Media will deliver more for Canadians, investing in great new programming and innovative new ways to access it, and ramping up competition in the Canadian broadcasting sector. It all means unprecedented new choice for Canadian viewers and listeners," said George Cope, President and CEO of Bell and BCE, in a release.

Last October, the CTRC denied BCE's proposal to acquire Astral Media. At that time, Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC, said that "BCE failed to persuade us that the deal would benefit Canadians" and that it "would have placed significant market power in the hands of one of the country's largest media companies."

Later, Bell and Astral resubmitted an application that addressed the need to reduce their market clout by divesting various TV, radio and other media assets.

By acquiring Astral, which will be integrated into BCE's Bell Media division, the service provider will be able to compete more effectively against Quebecor, the parent company of cable MSO Videotron.

For more:
- see the release
- Bloomberg has this article

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