Bell–Astral Merger Receives Green Light from CRTC

by Istvan Fekete on June 28, 2013

The CRTC has given the green light to Bell for its $3 billion acquisition of Astral Media, allowing the Canadian wireless player to build a large footprint in Québec. As a result, Bell will get its hand on Astral Media’s 84 radio stations, and 25 specialty TV services, that include popular channels such as The Movie Network and Family Channel.

The news comes after Bell’s first attempt to acquire Astral Media was flatly rejected by the federal broadcast regulator. According to the CRTC’s calculations, with the first offer Bell-Astral would have had up to 42% of the English TV market and 33% of the French-language TV market.

With the second offer, however, the CRTC is apparently satisfied, but its approval came with a set of small conditions over and above those the wireless players had already committed to. Following divestitures, Bell-Astral will retain 35.8% if the English-language market, and 22.6% of the French market.

“Astral’s application put forward a different approach and responded to many of our concerns” said Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman of the CRTC. “Yet there remained a significant risk that BCE could exert its market power to limit choice and competition. To ensure the public interest is served, we are requiring BCE to invest in new Canadian programming and sell more than a dozen services, and we are putting in place a number of competitive safeguards. This will maintain a healthy and competitive broadcasting system that offers more programming choices to Canadian consumers and citizens and more opportunities for Canadian creators.”

Among other things, BCE must:

  • adhere, as a condition of licence, to certain sections of the CRTC’s code of conduct for commercial arrangements that limit potential anti-competitive behaviour and ensure fair treatment for independent programming services and distributors
  • not unduly withhold non-linear rights from competing distributors, even if BCE is not exploiting such rights itself
  • provide reasonable access to advertising opportunities on its radio stations to all competitors
  • file with the CRTC affiliation agreements with programming services and television distributors
  • enter into a CRTC-supervised dispute resolution process if an affiliation agreement is not reached 120 days before the expiry date of the existing agreement.

Also, BCE is ordered to spend $72 million more than originally projected on initiatives over the next seven years labeled as tangible benefits as a condition of the acquisition.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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