Canuck giant moves into French-lingo TV

MONTREAL — Bell Canada, the country’s leading telecom player and broadcaster, just got a lot bigger. On Friday morning, it was announced that Bell has inked a deal to take-over Montreal-based broadcaster Astral Media for $3.4 billion.

With the deal, Bell makes a major incursion into the French-language TV landscape in Canada, a market that it didn’t have much of a foothold in up until now. Bell owns CTV — Canada’s leading TV network — and a slew of English-language cable channels, including sports channel TSN, MuchMusic and Bravo (Canada).

But it had only one French-language cable channel — sports channel RDS and its sister channels RDS2 and RDS Info. By acquiring Astral, Bell grabs many of the country’s top French-language channels, including Canal Vie, Series +, Canal D, MusiquePlus and VRAK.TV. It also acquires Astral’s English channels, notably The Movie Network, HBO Canada and Teletoon.

The price tag includes Bell taking over Astral’s debt of $380 million and will be funded with a combination of cash — making up about 75% of the price — and BCE equity.

“Bringing together two respected and longstanding Montreal brands, Bell’s acquisition of Astral firmly establishes our company as Quebec’s media leader,” said Bell CEO George Cope. “Bell is gaining a well-seasoned national Astral management team, dramatically expanding our French-language content, and more than levelling the playing field with our largest broadcast media competitor in Quebec.”

That Quebec competitor is Quebecor, which owns the country’s leading French network, TVA, a bunch of cable channels and cable operator Videotron. Quebecor competes ferociously with Bell in the mobile and residential phone business. This deal sets up for a major battle between the two empires.

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