Astral makes case for Standard buy

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OTTAWA -- Canadian broadcaster Astral Media on Monday pledged to invest CAN$63.3 million ($59.5 million) in the domestic music industry in return for permission to become the largest operator of radio stations in the nation.

The promised expenditure came as Montreal-based Astral appeared before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in a bid to secure regulatory approval for its proposed CAN $1.082 billion acquisition of rival radio broadcaster Standard Radio Inc.

Astral president and CEO Ian Greenberg told CRTC commissioners that the proposed merger with Toronto-based Standard represented "an ideal marriage."

Astral is seeking approval to buy 52 radio stations and two small-market TV stations from Standard in a move that would see its empire grow to include 81 radio stations (21 AM and 60 FM) as well a number of transitional digital radio stations and over-the-air TV stations in Terrace and Dawson Creek in British Columbia.

Astral's existing radio stations are mostly in the provinces of Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, while Standard's are largely in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.

Mindful of competition concerns regarding the merger, Greenberg said a combined Astral-Standard entity will maintain "diversity and vigorous competition" in all affected markets.

Standard Radio president and CEO Gary Slaight, who will join Astral's boardroom should the deal secure CRTC approval, said the merger was virtually inevitable.

"With a scope that now extends from coast to coast, the possibilities for Canada's new musical talent to achieve national exposure is, in my opinion, a huge benefit of putting these two companies together," Slaight argued.

Both companies pledged that the merger will not result in any job losses or a decline in local programming.

Astral is proposing to spend CAN$63.3 million on the Canadian music industry over seven years, with most of that amount going toward the promotion of emerging and established Canadian musicians and singers.

The CRTC is expected to release its decision on the Astral-Standard deal in the fall.
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