MONTREAL — In the second major deal to radically revamp the Canuck media biz this year, Canada’s top telecom company BCE — known as Bell — has taken 100% ownership of the country’s leading broadcaster CTV. BCE already owns 15% of CTV and it is set to pay C$1.3 billion ($1.2 billion) for the remaining 85% of CTV.
In May, Shaw Comms., one of the country’s leading cable operators, paid $1.9 billion to acquire the TV assets of financially-troubled CanWest Global Comms., nabbing the Global Network, the second top-rated network in Canada, and a number of cable channels.
By picking up CTV, Bell nabs the top TV web and a slew of cable channels, including popular sports channels TSN and RDS, MTV Canada, MuchMusic, Brave (Canada) and The Comedy Network.
BCE is already an important player in the wireless phone biz in Canada and it’s clear this deal is partly driven by a desire to provide exclusive content for its cellphone service. BCE is buying the remaining 85% of CTV from Woodbridge Company, the holding company of the Thomspon family; the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan; and Torstar Corp., which owns the Toronto Star newspaper. Together with the proportionate debt taken on, the total transaction value is $3.1 billion.
As part of the deal, Woodbridge will take control of the Globe and Mail newspaper, with Bell continuing to hold a 15% stake in the Toronto newspaper.
“This is the premier (broadcast) asset in Canada,” said BCE CEO George Cope in a conference call with analysts Friday morning.
Cope also made it clear that his company will be making the most of potential synergies between the broadcast properties and the mobile phone company.
“CTV’s business model is going to change because of mobile access,” said Cope.
This is also great news for CTV, said CTV CEO Ivan Fecan. The network — like every other conventional broadcaster in Canada — has spent a lot of time complaining that the business model for broadcasters is broken, which is why the networks have been begging for a subscription fee from cable and satellite operators.
“It’s very difficult to imagine the future for CTV as an independent broadcaster,” said Fecan in the same conference call. “We need access to that kind of forward thinking (from a company like BCE) and our new owner has a billing system, which we don’t have particularly. So there is nothing but upside for us.”
BCE is also an important player in satellite TV via Bell TV.
The deal also spells the end for CTVglobemedia, the company formed by CTV, the Globe and Mail and Woodbridge. In an odd wrinkle, this is actually the second time BCE has bought CTV. In 2000, the company jumped on the convergence bandwagon and paid $2.2 billion to buy CTV, which led to the creation of Bell Globemedia, with the addition of the Globe and Mail. But in 2005, BCE sold the biggest chunk of its holding in the media company to Woodbridge, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan and Torstar, which is when the media conglom was re-named CTVglobemedia.
The deal is subject to regulatory approval, a process that will take several months.