BCE to sell 10 stations for Astral deal


Canadian telecom giant BCE (Bell Canada Enterprises) has offered to spend C$200 million on Canadian programming and sell 10 radio stations on 7/11 as it tries to win regulatory support for its $3 billion Astral Media buy.

Shareholders of Montreal-based broadcaster Astral Media approved the deal in May. But it faces regulatory scrutiny because of the growing media footprint of BCE–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, Reuters reported.

In its statement, 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 the CRTC 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.

“Bell’s commitment to provide $200 million in additional funding for Canadian broadcasting initiatives builds on the outstanding contributions Astral has made to the industry, especially in the French-language market,” said George Cope, BCE CEO, in a statement.

Nearly half the funds will be earmarked to develop additional Canadian television programming, while about C$60 million being allocated to promote and develop Canadian musical talent, and assist community radio and other initiatives. The remainder will be used for other initiatives, the company said.

Astral is one of Bell’s biggest content providers and the deal will give Bell more than 20 television services, including HBO Canada, the Movie Network, Canal Vie and Disney Junior. It also brings into Bell’s fold about 80 radio stations, including Virgin Radio, EZ Rock and Boom.

See the Reuters story here.