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CRTC Approves Bell's $3.4B Acquisition of Astral Media, "But We Have A Few Conditions"

If at first you don’t succeed, try again, the CRTC has just announced they have approved Bell’s second bid to acquire Astral Media, a deal worth $3.4 billion.  The CRTC first denied the deal last fall, but the Competition Bureau approved it back in March 2013.  As part of the new deal, Astral will sell its pay and specialty television channels, conventional television stations and radio stations to BCE Inc. The CRTC’s approval comes with a number of conditions that are necessary to uphold the public interest.

“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.”

From CRTC’s press release:

As a result, the Commission has put in place further measures to address potential anti-competitive behaviour, to maintain a dynamic marketplace and to ensure Canadian listeners and viewers will continue to have access to a diversity of voices in the market. 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.

BCE will be required to invest $246.9 million in tangible benefits over the next seven years, which is $72 million more than it had proposed. This amount reflects the CRTC’s revised value of the transaction, as well as the size and exceptional nature of the transaction.

In particular, BCE must spend $175.4 million on initiatives related to the television sector, which is equivalent to 10 per cent of the value of Astral’s television services. These investments will notably result in the creation of original Canadian dramas, comedies, documentaries and award shows by independent producers. BCE will also support youth programming and initiatives designed to promote Canadian content on multiple platforms. A portion of programming expenditures will be reserved for official-language minority communities in each language.

Additionally, BCE will be required to support the development, production and promotion of Canadian feature films, notably through additional contributions to the Harold Greenberg Fund and Telefilm Canada, financial support of Canadian film festivals and initiatives to promote Canadian feature films.

BCE must also spend $71.5 million on initiatives related to the radio sector, which is equivalent to 7 per cent of the value of Astral’s radio stations. The company will provide funding to not-for-profit organizations that contribute to the growth and development of the Canadian music industry, help launch the careers of emerging artists and support campus and community radio stations.