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Corus sells Family, buys femme web

Shaw buys feevee service Viewer's Choice for $22.6 mil

MONTREAL — Canuck broadcaster Corus Entertainment has sold its 50% stake in the Family Channel to Astral Media of Montreal for C$126.9 million ($81.9 million). Also, Corus has acquired the Women’s Television Network from Moffat Communications for $132.3 million.

Toronto-based Corus also announced it has sold its Viewer’s Choice pay-per-view service to Shaw Communications, which indirectly controls Corus, for $22.6 million.

Shaw took over Moffat in a deal worth $774 million last year in order to acquire Moffat’s cable assets. Shaw picked up the Women’s Television Network as part of the Moffat deal, but the Moffat shares continue to be held in trust pending approval of the sale from the Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The sale of the Women’s Television Network was arranged by Moffat trustee Fred Wagman.

Nice niche

Observers noted the pricetag for the femme-focused specialty channel is quite high and is only the latest indication that niche TV channels are hot sellers in the Great White North.

Last month, Alliance Atlantis acquired Halifax-based Salter Street Films for $54.3 million; Alliance’s main goal was to gain Salter-owned Independent Film Channel Canada. The Women’s Television Network is a solid profit maker, garnering cash flow last year of $5.4 million.

“When you’re dealing with an analog channel with 6 million subscribers, it’s one of the last beachfront properties,” said Paul Robertson, president of television at Corus Entertainment. “So when a channel like that comes up for sale, there’s quite a bit of interest.”

The Women’s Television Network, based in Winnipeg, has been on-air since 1995.

Corus execs said there are no plans to change the network’s management or programming.

“We’re thrilled at the prospect of becoming part of the Corus Entertainment family,” said Elaine Ali, president of Women’s Television Network.

Last year the CRTC ordered Corus to sell its 50% interest in the Family Channel amid concerns about concentration of ownership. The CRTC also was concerned about Corus’ dominance in the youth-TV area, as the company already owns both YTV and Treehouse. Corus had attempted to delay selling off its interest in the Family Channel but finally gave in to the regulator’s demand.

Astral Media, which already owned the other 50% in Family Channel, now becomes the sole owner of the channel. Astral’s acquisition of Family Channel also gives Astral another 20% interest in the all-cartoon Teletoon network, upping Astral’s stake to 40%.

“I am particularly proud of this acquisition, as Family and Teletoon are rare and valuable media assets and Astral has been a part of their development since their launch,” said Astral CEO Ian Greenberg.

Corus president John Cassaday said the company was selling Viewer’s Choice to Shaw because it makes more sense for a cable company to own a PPV service.

Regulatory concerns

All three deals are subject to CRTC approval. Complicating matters on the regulatory front, the CRTC is looking into the overall issue of cable companies and cable-controlled companies such as Corus owning new specialty channels. The regulator, which fears cable operators will give preference on their systems to their own channels, often has forced cable operators to divest themselves of specialty channels in the past.

Cable companies like Rogers and Shaw argue, however, that the policy is obsolete now that a major direct-to-home satellite player such as BCE is able to own broadcast and specialty webs. The CRTC is expected to rule on the overall issue before making a ruling on these sales.

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