CRTC Reveals Terms of $3.38 Billion Bell/Astral Media Takeover

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The TV watchdog indicates the Canadian phone giant dangled major asset sales and $174.64 million in sweeteners to secure approval for the mega-deal.

OTTAWA – The CRTC has made public the terms of Canadian phone giant Bell's revised $3.38 billion takeover bid for indie broadcaster Astral Media, which includes $174.64 million in sweeteners to secure regulator approval.

The new deal entails major sales of Astral Media assets to eventually leave a $2.08 billion price tag on the proposed transaction.

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Bell is seeking permission from the CRTC to hold onto major Astral Media TV assets like the eastern Canadian pay TV channel The Movie Network, which includes HBO Canada, and TMN Encore, and French-language channels like SuperEcran, CinePop, Canal Vie, Canal D, VRAK TV and Z Tele.

Bell and Astral Media in their latest application to the CRTC said the retained services would put Bell's share of total Canadian viewing audience at 35.7 percent, up from 33.7 percent.

The combined Bell Media/Astral Media entity after divestitures would also result in a French-language TV viewership share of 23 percent.

“Nearly all of this increase would come from the eastern Canadian pay licenses, which do not run advertising,” the application stated.

The CRTC late last year rejected an earlier application by Bell to acquire Astral Media on grounds it would give the phone giant too great a share of the Canadian media audience.

To secure approval for the deal, Bell has proposed $174.64 million in so-called tangible benefits to be mostly spent on Canadian content production.

The Competition Bureau, an arms-length government agency that considers major Canadian takeover deals on competition grounds, last week approved the Bell/Astral Media deal, contingent on asset sales.