Canada's BCE confident of approval on Astral deal

Tue Jun 5, 2012 4:23pm EDT
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By Alastair Sharp

TORONTO (Reuters) - BCE Inc (BCE.TO: Quote), Canada's largest telecom company, is confident it will win regulatory approval for its proposed acquisition of Astral Media Inc ACMa.TO and said it sees plenty of interest in the radio stations it must offload as part of the deal.

The C$3 billion ($2.9 billion) deal is expected to draw close scrutiny from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, given BCE's heft since buying CTV, Canada's largest private broadcaster, last year.

If the Astral acquisition would give the combined company more than 35 percent audience share, the regulator must decide whether the deal is in the public interest. It blocks deals that would give a 45 percent share in any region, genre or language.

"On the English side, we're below the 35 (percent market share)," Mirko Bibic, BCE's head of government and regulatory affairs, said on the sidelines of a telecom conference on Tuesday.

Broadly speaking, the Canadian market is divided between predominantly French-speaking Quebec, and the rest of the country, where English prevails.

"If you take all viewership, we're below 35 (percent) and it's all complimentary," Bibic said. Astral has "children's (programming) and we don't have children's; they have a movie network and we don't have a movie network. Our services are ad-supported, most of theirs don't have ads," he said.

BCE, the parent of Bell Canada, has pushed aggressively to own the content it distributes over mobile phones, tablets and personal computers hooked up to its telecom networks.

The Astral acquisition would bring its largest content provider in-house and expand its presence in Quebec, where Quebecor Inc QBRa.TO is a major competitor.   Continued...

President and Chief Executive of Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) Inc George Cope looks on during the annual general shareholders meeting at the Congress Center in Quebec City May 3, 2012. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger