BCE offers program boost, radio sales to win Astral deal

Tue Jul 10, 2012 7:03pm EDT
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By Euan Rocha

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian telecom giant BCE Inc (BCE.TO: Quote) offered to spend C$200 million ($196 million) on Canadian programming and sell 10 radio stations on Tuesday as it tries to win regulatory support for its C$3 billion acquisition of Astral Media Inc ACMa.TO.

Shareholders of Montreal-based television and radio company Astral Media approved the deal in May. But it is bound to face close regulatory scrutiny because of the growing media heft of BCE - the country's largest telecom company - especially after its 2011 acquisition of CTV, Canada's largest private broadcaster.

BCE is buying Astral to lock up more programming for its wholly owned Bell Media subsidiary and to expand its presence in French-speaking Quebec.

It had already indicated it would sell some of Astral's radio stations after the purchase so that it does not run afoul of Canadian regulations that limit the number of radio stations that one company can own in each geographical market.

In its statement on Tuesday, BCE said regulations would require it to sell nine FM stations and one AM station in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa-Gatineau and Winnipeg for the deal to win approval.

BCE said its commitment to spend C$200 million on Canadian programming shows the "tangible benefits" that will be created by the deal. Such payments are a condition for approval of takeover deals in the industry.

A final verdict from industry regulator, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, on the deal won't come until mid-October following the completion of a one-month public comment period that has just begun and the hearings that will follow it.

BCE has also asked the CRTC to allow it to convert the TSN Radio 990 English-language sports station in Montreal into a French-language sports station. The move would allow it to work around regulations governing the ownership of multiple radio stations in a given market.   Continued...