Bell Canada Responds to $3.38 Billion Astral Deal Critics by Opening Wallet

The Canadian phone giant has sweetened the pot to secure regulatory approval by promising $80 million in new financing for French-language radio and TV content.

TORONTO – Canadian phone giant Bell Canada on Thursday opened its big wallet to override opposition to its pending $3.38 billion takeover of Astral Media.

Bell said it will sweeten the pot with $80 million in new financing for Quebec radio and TV production as it fends off a Say No to Bell campaign waged by rival phone giant Telus Corp. and cable operators Cogeco, Eastlink and Quebecor Media.

"This new content funding committed by Bell-Astral will ensure much greater viewing choice for Québec consumers in a media marketplace where true competition and new innovation is long overdue," George Cope, president and CEO of Bell Canada and BCE, said in a statement.

Bell is seeking a greenlight from the CRTC, Canada’s broadcast regulator, and the federal Competition Bureau, for its takeover of Astral Media.

Industry critics contend the Astral takeover will hand Bell Canada and its Bell Media subsidiary a 38 percent share of the Canadian TV market, and usher in higher prices and poorer consumer choice.

To win regulatory approval for the deal, Bell Canada said it will funnel the new financing to French-language programming of national and international interest, new content for children and youth programming and expanded TV and radio music programming.

The CRTC, Canada's TV watchdog, is expected to rule on the Astral Media takeover in October.

The Competition Bureau, which weighs major takeover on competition grounds, will also weigh in on the blockbuster deal.