Canada's BCE wins regulatory approval for C$3 billion Astral bid
By Louise Egan and Alastair Sharp
OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's broadcast regulator on Thursday approved a C$3 billion ($2.86 billion) bid by BCE Inc (BCE.TO: Quote), the country's biggest telecoms company, to take over Astral Media Inc ACMa.TO, a deal that will give BCE more control over content it distributes to television, computer and mobile screens.
The deal, expected to help BCE better compete with rival Quebecor Inc (QBRb.TO: Quote) in their home province of Quebec, adds premium movie channels and French-language content to BCE's existing media assets.
The regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, had initially rejected the deal last year, saying it would make BCE far too dominant.
BCE and Astral subsequently revised their agreement and promised to divest 11 television channels and 10 radio stations.
Still, the CRTC said it had to put conditions even on the revised deal to uphold the public interest and protect rivals from anti-competitive behavior. It required no further asset sales, however.
The conditions mean that "Canadians will continue to have access to programming from a diversity of voices in the marketplace," Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC, said at the regulator's headquarters. "Let me be clear, without the measures we are imposing today the commission would not have approved Astral's application," he said.
Under the conditions, the regulator will more closely monitor BCE's behavior in the marketplace. BCE will have to adhere to a code of conduct on anti-competitive behavior or risk losing its broadcasting license. It must also file documents with the CRTC on deals to sell content to rivals.
BCE said it is assessing the CRTC ruling and would issue a statement before markets open on Friday. Continued...