CRTC Approves $3 Billion Deal for Bell to Acquire Astral Media [Update]

The CRTC has approved Bell’s $3 billion deal to acquire Astral Media, reports The Globe and Mail, after rejecting the initial deal last October due to concerns the former would gain too much market power:

The approval by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission gives Bell permission to buy Astral’s 84 radio stations 25 specialty TV services, including some of the country’s most popular channels such as The Movie Network and Family Channel. To soothe fears of market dominance, Bell has already agreed to sell Astral’s stakes in 12 specialty channels and 10 English-language radio stations.

Opposition to the deal came from non-profit the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which argued Bell would still be able to manipulate market television by making higher fees for its most popular channels. The same argument was made by Rogers, which said Bell already charges 5-10 times market rates to offer content for its TV Anywhere platform. Quebecor, which is set to face huge competition in Quebec from Bell, also criticized the deal.

The Competition Bureau approved the $3.38 billion merger back in March, which was pending CRTC approval. A CRTC hearing in May heard Bell and Astral media executives argue a merger was necessary to compete against the likes of Netflix in Canada. Jean Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC previously said “we will determine if this transaction would benefit Canadians, as well as the Canadian broadcasting system.”

Update: The CRTC has issued the following statement:

“Astral’s application put forward a different approach and responded to many of our concerns” said Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman of the CRTC. “Yet there remained a significant risk that BCE could exert its market power to limit choice and competition. To ensure the public interest is served, we are requiring BCE to invest in new Canadian programming and sell more than a dozen services, and we are putting in place a number of competitive safeguards. This will maintain a healthy and competitive broadcasting system that offers more programming choices to Canadian consumers and citizens and more opportunities for Canadian creators.”

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