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Bell Canada Buys Astral Media, Becoming TV’s Top Dog North of the Border

Bell Canada is finally getting its hands on rival broadcaster Astral Media.

After rejecting the $3 billion deal last fall, federal regulator the Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission gave its OK to the mega-deal Thursday. Bell had to come back with a second offer for Astral to please the regulator and the final deal includes a lot fewer assets.

The takeover radically revamps the TV landscape in Canada and makes Bell easily the top player. It will have a 35.8% market share in English-Canada and will be the second-biggest TV owner in French Canada, with 22.6%, behind market-leader Quebecor, which has 31%.

The biggest impetus for the deal was to give Bell its first major stake in the French-language TV scene in Canada. Bell is also the country’s top telecom company and a major Internet service provider.

Originally Bell had wanted to buy all 25 Astral cable channels but in the new deal, it only picks up 12, including the Movie Network, HBO Canada, Canal D and Canal Vie. It will sell the Astral stakes in several other channels — including Teletoon and the Cartoon Network — to Corus Entertainment.

Virtually of all of Bell’s competitors — notably Rogers Communications and Quebecor — were opposed to the deal. Bell picks up 74 radio stations from Astral. And it still has to sell six TV channels owned by Astral, including MusiquePlus, the Family Channel and Disney Channel.

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