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Astral shareholders back Bell buy-out

Shareholders in Canada’s Astral Media have voted overwhelmingly in favour of its C$3.38bn (US$3.3bn) buy-out by rival Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE).

About 99.8% of shareholders supported the move at a meeting held at Astral’s Montreal base yesterday.

However, a motion to present Astral’s outgoing president and CEO Ian Greenberg with a C$25m thank-you payment as part of the deal was withdrawn.

The acquisition is now subject to approval by the Québec Superior Court, which is due to hold a final hearing later today, with the deal likely to be completed in the second half of this year.

Astral will then become part of the Bell Media business unit, which was created in April 2011 after BCE’s acquisition of CTV, Canada’s largest media company.

Greenberg said shareholders’ “enthusiastic” support for the merger “aptly reflects the value that the negotiated agreement represents for all Astral shareholders. I look forward to continuing to work in close collaboration with Bell’s team towards securing regulatory approvals for the transaction and its completion later in 2012.”

BCE welcomed the approval of the deal, which “brings together two of the strongest brands in Québec to deliver the best content to customers with innovative new broadband services like Fibe TV and Bell Mobile TV,” said George Cope, president and CEO of BCE and Bell Canada.

“This transaction greatly increases the French-language content available from Bell, and levels the competitive playing field with our major competitor in Québec media.”

Cope added that Greenberg will join the BCE board of directors following completion of the acquisition, which was announced in March and stands to further consolidate Canada’s short list of broadcasters.

Under the deal, BCE will take control of Astral’s 22 pay and speciality channels, which include The Movie Network, HBO Canada and French-language channels such as Super Écran, Canal Vie, VRAK TV and Family Channel.

Astral also operates radio stations in 50 markets and more than 100 websites and digital media properties.

Aside from CTV, BCE also owns sportscaster TSN, The Comedy Network, Bravo! and Space. Its takeover of Astral will significantly increase its presence in French-speaking Canada.

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