CRTC approves BCE’s blockbuster Astral Media takeover

The regulatory decision, with conditions, comes after an earlier bid to acquire the Canadian media group was rejected on competition grounds.

The CRTC has approved the revised bid by Bell Media-parent BCE to acquire Astral Media for $3.4 billion.

“The Commission, after considering the complete public record of this proceeding, determines that the present transaction, as modified in this decision, is in the public interest,” the CRTC said in its decision Thursday.

“The Commission acknowledges the concerns raised by interveners over the impact of the transaction on competition, ownership concentration in television and radio, vertical integration and the exercise of market power,” the regulator added.

The regulatory decision means Astral Media will be broken up, with significant parts of the company acquired by Bell Media, while other assets are picked up by competitors, including Corus Entertainment.

As outlined in BCE’s revised bid, the company must divest itself of Astral TV services The Family Channel, TELETOON Retro, TÉLÉTOON Rétro, TELETOON/TÉLÉTOON, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Cartoon Network, Historia, Séries+, MusiquePlus and MusiMax.

BCE during its second application to the CRTC successfully met regulatory concerns over the size and reach of a Bell-Astral combo, especially in Quebec.

After divestitures, BCE’s share of the French-language TV market will be 22.6 per cent.

The first bid to acquire Astral Media was denied in October 2012 over CRTC concerns that a combined entity would put too much market power in BCE’s control.

BCE eventually submitted a second proposal to acquire Astral Media that reduced its market footprint by selling off choice assets.

That included a significant benefits package with investment in indie production, and an earlier agreement to spin off properties like stakes in Teletoon and Cartoon Network to Corus Entertainment as part of a $494 million deal.

BCE will invest $246.9 million in tangible benefits over seven years, which is $72 million more than it had proposed.

That includes spending $175.4 million on several initiatives related to the TV sector, such as French- and English-language original PNI from indie producers, and initiatives related to promoting multiplatform Canadian content.

The phone giant also had to respond to industry criticism of the deal, especially from competitors in Quebec like Quebecor and Cogeco.

The regulator said in its decision that in regard to the English-language market, the combined BCE-Astral TV audience viewing share, excluding the proposed divested services totalled 35.8% in 2012, which falls within the 35% to 45% threshold.

“Nevertheless, BCE-Astral would become one of the largest broadcasters, in terms of audience share, in both the English- and French-language markets,” the regulator said Thursday.

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