CRTC Hearings Over Bell/Astral Deal Commence

by Jordan Richardson on September 10, 2012

The public hearings on Bell’s intended acquisition of Astral Media will commence on Monday, with the CRTC checking out the $3.4 billion transaction.

The key component here is just how much of a stake in the market BCE Inc. will hold should the deal be allowed to go through. According to the CRTC’s own statements in the past, any deal that could see a company grab more than 35 percent of the market will come under close scrutiny and anything about the 45 percent threshold will be tossed out.

A veritable chorus of companies, film groups, producers, and consumer advocates have come out in opposition to the deal thus far and the regulatory hearing is expected to hear from a number of them starting this week.

According to Bell’s numbers, it will control 33.5 percent of the English language market if they deal goes through. That puts it under the 35 percent threshold, obviously, but the opposition doesn’t agree with Bell’s arithmetic. Telus, for its part, suggests that its rival will sit at around 49.5 percent of the English language market – this includes Bell’s ownership of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s television assets and other assets that it holds with other companies.

And according to digits put up by the Say No to Bell website, Bell would hold 37.6 percent of the television viewing market.

Obviously the CRTC will have to settle this dispute. That starts with determining what the numbers actually are.

The hearings will start in Montreal and are expected to last the week. Bell will make its case for the deal first, while Quebecor boss Karl Peledeau will make his case against the deal shortly after. Telus is also expected to ask the CRTC to block the Bell/Astral deal.

“Until such a time as we see some significant increase in the safeguards and the way these safeguards are going to be implemented and adhered to, we’re not comfortable with seeing Bell Media getting any bigger than they are now,” said David Fuler, Telus’ chief marketing officer. “We think that the potential for market abuse on the part of Bell, given the degree of concentration they will end up having subsequent to this acquisition, is extreme and that has us very concerned.”

If Bell clears the CRTC hurdle and the deal is put through the regulatory paces, it will still have to pass the Competition Bureau. That could prove a little more difficult.

Bell currently owns CTV, a number of specialty channels and 35 radio stations in addition to other assets. Astral owns 84 radio stations and specialty channels, like The Movie Network and Family Channel.

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BCE Submits New Astral Deal Proposal To CRTC —
November 20, 2012 at 6:58 am

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