* Revised deal passed Competition Bureau muster on Monday
* Astral says assets BCE would retain worth C$2 bln
By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO, March 6 Canada's broadcast regulator
will open public hearings on May 6 on the proposed C$3 billion
($2.9 billion) acquisition of Astral Media by BCE Inc
, the country's largest telecom company, and will focus
on whether the revised deal is in the public interest.
The regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), rejected BCE's original
takeover offer for Astral, a Quebec-based owner of specialty-TV
channels and radio stations, last autumn, saying the deal would
have given BCE inordinate influence.
"Given the nature and the size of the proposed transaction,
the commission may wish to discuss the concentration of
ownership and potential market dominance," the CRTC said in a
notice of the May hearing posted on its website on Wednesday.
In its revised bid for Astral, BCE has agreed to divest
itself of a swathe of Astral's TV and radio services. Canada's
Competition Bureau approved the new bid on
Astral is BCE's largest content supplier, and BCE has been
moving aggressively to secure the content that is distributed
via its television and Internet services. In 2011 it bought CTV,
the country's largest private broadcaster.
Last year, it teamed up with rival Rogers Communications
to buy the owner of the National Hockey League's
Toronto Maple Leafs and a stable of other sports assets.
The CRTC said the May hearing in Montreal could also
consider what penalties an enlarged BCE might face if the Astral
deal is approved and the company then breaches fair trading
Critics of the deal have complained that BCE could use its
clout as a content owner to push costs higher across the
industry or promote exclusive content over its television and
Internet services to poach subscribers.
Astral said in a submission to the CRTC that once the Astral
divestitures are complete, BCE would have 23 percent viewing
share in the national French-language market and 35.7 percent in
Astral said that the value of the assets BCE would retain
would be C$2.08 billion.
The CRTC says its policy is to examine carefully
transactions that would lead to one entity controlling between
35 and 45 percent of total audience share, but that it aims to
expedite decisions on those that would result in a share of less
than 35 percent.