Competition Bureau OKs Bell's Astral takeover
Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) President and CEO George Cope (L) and Astral Media Inc. President and CEO Ian Greenberg share a laugh after a news conference in Montreal March 16, 2012. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi
OTTAWA -- The Competition Bureau has approved Bell Media's takeover of competitor Astral Media, but with several caveats.
According to the Competition Bureau's ruling, media giant BCE (Bell's parent company) must divest itself from several of Astral's specialty and pay channels if the $3-billion deal is to go through.
The bureau also prohibited Bell from imposing "restrictive bundling requirements on any provider seeking to carry the Movie Network or Super Ecran as part of its consent agreement with Bell."
"Today's agreement is essential to preserving choice for consumers and ensuring continued and effective competition in this area," Interim Competition Commissioner John Pecman said in a release.
Bell says it will also divest itself of several radio stations.
The CRTC still has to approve the transaction.
Bell initiated the takeover last year, but the CRTC rejected its initial application on the grounds it would allow the company to become too large, giving it an unfair share of the national market and predisposing it to "anti-competitive behaviour."
"Our only option was to deny the application because it was not in the public interest," CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said at the time.
Bell executives were pleased with Monday's decision and assured consumer interests would be put first.
"This decision preserves the tremendous value the transaction represents to consumers the Canadian media community and Astral and Bell shareholders," Bell president George Cope said in a statement.
After divestitures, Bell's share of English-Canada viewership will rise 2% to 35.7% and its share of French-language viewership will be 23%.