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The Globe and Mail: Bell submits new takeover bid

Bell is attempting to repackage its $3.38-billion takeover of Astral Media to decision-makers at the CRTC. This Big Telecom power-grab would lead to higher vertical integration, less market choice and increased costs to Canadians. Let's ensure that our voices are heard once more. Speak out against Bell's tightening grip over Canadian communications by telling the CRTC to Article by Steve Ladurantaye and Jacquie McNish for The Globe and Mail Canada’s broadcast regulator has signalled it would clear the way for BCE Inc. to bulk up in Quebec as it resurrects its bid for Astral Media Inc, provided the media giant unloads television and radio stations in the rest of the country and does a better job of explaining how its $3-billion takeover would benefit Canadians. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission warned BCE and Astral Media when it rejected the first takeover bid that it was concerned that a combined company would control too much of the Canadian market, including Quebec.

But a source within the broadcasting commission told The Globe and Mail that those concerns wouldn’t necessarily scuttle a restructured takeover deal if English-language stations were peeled away from the merged entity.

And in Quebec, there would be a strong counterweight to BCE’s bulk: Quebecor Inc. would still be the largest media player in the province.

On Monday, BCE resurrected its failed bid, saying it heard the message sent by Canada’s broadcast regulator “loud and clear” when its original deal was rejected because of concerns of market dominance. As The Globe reported last week, officials with both companies met with the broadcast regulator after the rejection of the original deal to better understand how to revise the takeover bid.

While the takeover would see Bell control about 90 specialty channels and more than 100 radio stations across the country in both languages, one of its goals when announcing the deal was to add more French programming so it could better compete with Quebecor.

BCE’s arch-rival accounted for 35 per cent of viewership of French television viewing in 2011, while Bell only accounted for 6 per cent. Astral, meanwhile, owned 26 per cent of the market and would help Bell increase its presence in the province.

Sources say the new bid, which has not yet been made public but has been filed with the CRTC, outlines which English radio stations and television services the company is willing to part with in order to reduce its viewership numbers in English Canada – a key reason the previous deal was rejected.

“We feel really good about this one,” said Mirko Bibic, the company’s chief regulatory officer. “We need to move away from the mechanics of the transaction and say there’s a vision here, and that’s to deliver more to both viewers and listeners.”

Because the company filed a new application to the CRTC, the entire process that led to the first deal’s rejection must unfold again. That means CRTC staff is now reviewing the submission, and will let the public see the details of the proposal when it opens the case for public comments prior to a hearing. Read more »


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