Jun 27, 2013

By Michael Kramer

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Bell has the thumbs-up  for its second bid to buy Astral Media and its coveted suite of TV speciality channels and radio stations.

 The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission announced its decision today after markets closed.

The deal is worth  $3.4 billion.

The CRTC initially rejected Bell’s  bid for Astral last autumn, saying it wasn’t in the best interests of Canadians.

But the  revised bid – in which Bell agreed to sell some of Astral’s specialty TV channels and radio stations — satisfied the regulator’s concerns that the company would be too dominant in the market.

Bell’s parent company, BCE Inc.has said it wants to buy Astral to put its content across traditional TV, computers, smartphones and tablets. Astral’s English pay TV service, The Movie Network, and French-language pay TV service Super Ecran would be key providers of shows and movies.

Bell is trying to compete with the online streaming service Netflix and YouTube, which launched its pay channels last month.

As a condition of the CRTC’s approval of the deal, Bell must sell a number of Astral’s English and French specialty TV channels along with some of its English-language radio stations.

Bell must also keep a number of English-language TV stations in operation for at least four more years.

The CRTC is also requiring Bell to spend $246.9 million on “tangible benefits” over the next seven years,which is  $72 million more than the company proposed.

Some of those  benefits include paying for initiatives in the radio and television sectors that are meant to create more Canadian programming, and spending on Canadian films and festivals to promote them.

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