Astral, BCE try again to get regulatory nod for takeover

Mon Nov 19, 2012 1:00pm EST
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(Reuters) - BCE Inc, Canada's biggest telecom company, is seeking regulatory approval for a revised C$3 billion ($3 billion) plan to take over Astral Media Inc after the country's broadcast regulator rejected its previous bid.

Astral and BCE, the parent of Bell Canada, said on Monday they have filed the revised application with the regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which last month blocked BCE's original bid for Astral.

Astral owns specialty television channels, radio stations, and an outdoor advertising business, and is BCE's biggest content provider.

A deal for Astral would give BCE more direct control over costs and boost its access to programming for its television and wireless customers, particularly those in Quebec, where both companies are based.

BCE and Astral gave no specifics on their revised proposal except to say the amount payable to Astral shareholders would be the same as under the original plan.

The companies said the revised proposal addresses the regulator's concerns over the level of control that the initial plan would have given BCE over Canadian media. The new plan spells out the steps the companies would take to comply with relevant viewership thresholds, they said.

The CRTC rejected the initial proposal, saying it feared the deal would give BCE a stranglehold over English-language programming.

"We heard Canadians and the CRTC loud and clear - they want assurance that Astral joining with Bell Media will directly benefit consumers and creators," said BCE Chief Executive George Cope in a release.

BCE is already a major media player, operating numerous TV and radio assets, including CTV, Canada's biggest private broadcaster, which it acquired last year.   Continued...

Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) president and chief executive officer George Cope (L) and Ian Greenberg (R), president and chief executive officer of Astral Media Inc., speak at a news conference in Montreal, March 16, 2012. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi