* BCE says will spend C$200 mln on Canadian programming
* To sell 10 radio stations to get regulatory nod
* Astral would expand BCE's content, presence in Quebec
By Euan Rocha
TORONTO, July 10 Canadian telecom giant BCE Inc
offered to spend C$200 million ($196 million) on
Canadian programming and sell 10 radio stations on Tuesday as it
tries to win regulatory support for its C$3 billion acquisition
of Astral Media Inc.
Shareholders of Montreal-based television and radio company
Astral Media approved the deal in May. But it is bound to face
close regulatory scrutiny because of the growing media heft of
BCE - the country's largest telecom company - especially after
its 2011 acquisition of CTV, Canada's largest private
BCE is buying Astral to lock up more programming for its
wholly owned Bell Media subsidiary and to expand its presence in
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.
In its statement on Tuesday, 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 industry regulator, the Canadian
Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, 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.
BCE has also asked the CRTC to allow it to convert the TSN
Radio 990 English-language sports station in Montreal into a
French-language sports station. The move would allow it to work
around regulations governing the ownership of multiple radio
stations in a given market.
"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, who
is chief executive of BCE and Bell, in a statement.
Nearly half the funds will be earmarked to develop
a dditional 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.
The assets would allow Bell to raise its profile in one of
Canada's biggest media markets and broaden its footprint.
T he deal positions Bell to compete more effectively against
Quebecor Inc, which owns a rich array of
French-language content and rival telecom company Videotron that
als o ope rates in the Quebec - Canada's francophone heartland.
"Bell's acquisition of Astral intensifies competition by
leveling the playing field with Bell's dominant competitor in
the important Québec media marketplace," the company said.
The proposed Astral acquisition must also pass muster with
Canada's antitrust regulator - the Competition Bureau, which is
reviewing the deal, but has yet to issue a ruling.