Two down, two to go. A Canadian court has okayed the purchase of Astral Media by Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), leaving just the country’s broadcast regulator and competition bureau between the two companies and their impending C$3.38bn (US$3.3bn) marriage.
The Quebec Superior Court today ruled that the deal is fair to Astral shareholders, who on Thursday expressed the same sentiment by voting overwhelmingly in favour of falling in with BCE.
BCE owns the market-leading CTV network and its many specialty channels, including sportscaster TSN, The Comedy Network and Space. Astral’s 22 pay and specialty TV holdings include The Movie Network, HBO Canada, Family Channel and the French-language outlets Super Écran, Canal Vie and Vrak TV.
Both sides hope to close the deal in the second half of the year.
Hearings to be held by the Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will review the pros and cons of the deal and, no doubt, touch on the perennial issue of Canada’s increasingly consolidated broadcast sector.
Perhaps most critically, the CRTC will also determine how much money BCE must put towards independent production upon closing the deal. Canadian regulations require such ‘benefits packages’ to off-set the drawbacks of media consolidation, and are typically set at 10% of the purchase price.
The Competition Bureau has laid low during Canada’s other recent mega-mergers and is not expected to challenge the deal.
The deal will hand BCE its first pay channels and a greater presence in French-speaking Quebec, where it will come into more direct competition with TVA and its parent Quebecor.