CRTC Denies Bell Canada's $3.38 Billion Takeover of Astral Media

Big Bang Theory Kevin Sussman - H 2012

Big Bang Theory Kevin Sussman - H 2012

The Canadian regulator cited competition grounds to deny the phone giant from acquiring the last major indie media group to drive its convergence strategy.

TORONTO – Canada’s TV regulator on Thursday dropped a bombshell by denying phone giant Bell Canada a bid to acquire indie media group Astral Media for $3.38 billion.

Imagine the FCC having denied Comcast from acquiring NBCUniversal on competition grounds to know the impact the CRTC decision will have on the Canadian media industry.

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The regulator didn’t even attach onerous conditions to the transaction by the Canadian phone giant.

“BCE failed to persuade us that the deal would benefit Canadians,” Jean-Pierre Blais, the newly-installed chairman of the CRTC, said in a statement as he unveiled the regulatory decision.

Blais said approving the Astral Media takeover would have placed “significant market power” in the hands of Bell Canada, which already has a vertically-integrated radio, TV and digital division, Bell Media.

“We could not have ensured a robust Canadian broadcasting system without imposing extensive and intrusive safeguards, which would have been to the detriment of the entire industry,” the CRTC topper argued.

The ruling, released after the market close here, has major implications for a Canadian media sector that already has undergone major industry consolidation and faces a competitive threat from Netflix Canada and other U.S. digital platforms.

Bell Canada said the Astral Media takeover was required to create a Canadian media giant able to take on foreign competition, especially on the Internet.

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The CRTC’s denial sets the table for Astral Media, which is controlled by Montreal’s Greenberg family, to possibly put itself back on the auction block.

Bell Media includes CTV, Canada’s top-rated TV network with hits like The Big Bang Theory and American Idol.