Canadian TV biz objects to Bell’s Astral takeover

Rivals urge regulator to nix $3 billion deal

Telco giant Bell Canada’s $3 billion deal to swallow rival broadcaster Astral Media is facing fierce opposition from the country’s TV biz.

Almost all the leading media companies have come out strongly against the deal, one of the largest in local media history.

Quebecor (the Montreal-based broadcaster, cable operator and newspaper owner) and Rogers Media (owner of the City-tv stations) argue that Bell will become too dominant if it takes over Astral’s 24 channels. These include the Movie Network, cartoon web Teletoon, and French-language channels including the lifestyle outlet Canal Vie.

They have lodged objections with broadcast watchdog the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, which had been expected to greenlight the mega-deal when it was presented in spring.

But in recent weeks, pressure has been mounting on the CRTC to just say no.

“I think giving Bell Canada more control is a bad idea,” said Steve Anderson, executive director of Openmedia.ca, a group that is part of the recently formed Stop the Takeover Coalition. “It’s within the range (of having too much control of the TV market) so the CRTC has the power to stop the merger.”

The CRTC’s rule-of-thumb is that no company should have more than a 35% share of Canada’s two markets, one French, one English.

With the addition of the Astral assets, Bell says it will have 24% of the French-language market and 33.5% of the English-language market.

It already owns the country’s top TV network CTV and leading cable channels including sports channel TSN and Discovery (Canada).

But Bell’s competitors insist that its marketshare is even higher and that’s why the CRTC has to step in.

“The loudest voices against the deal are from our competitors,” said Bell spokeswoman Marie-Eve Francoeur. “They’re just concerned about Bell’s increasing competitiveness and market success. Quebecor has long had market dominance in Quebec media and TV service. Bell-Astral will reduce that dominance, though Quebecor will still be bigger. It’s all good for consumers, but considering the impact on their own businesses, it’s not surprising our competitors would fight this kind of progress. The idea that our competitors actually are fighting for consumers is ridiculous.”