Newspaper article The Canadian Press

CRTC Takes Second Look at Bell-Astral Deal after Turning It Down the First Time

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

CRTC Takes Second Look at Bell-Astral Deal after Turning It Down the First Time

Article excerpt

CRTC takes another look at Bell-Astral deal

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MONTREAL - Bell is heading to the CRTC for a second time in hopes that its plan to sell off the majority of Astral Media's TV channels will be enough to appease the regulator's worries its takeover of the media company would not be good for Canadians.

A new round of public hearings on Bell's revised plan to buy Astral starts Monday after the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission killed the plan last fall, citing concerns it would restrict choice and raise prices for consumers.

Janet Lo, legal counsel with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said the revised deal isn't all that different from Bell's first attempt to win approval to buy Astral.

"For us, it raises the same concerns for competition as the first transaction," said Lo, who will appear before the CRTC at the hearings.

This time, parent company BCE Inc. will keep just eight of Astral's 25 specialty channels, including premium Movie Network, and 77 of its 84 radio stations.

Lo said the deal still raises questions about whether independent broadcasters will be able to provide the diversity of voices that Canadians expect.

"We are continually concerned by media concentration and what that means for independent producers being viable, what that means for Canadians being able to access content they want to pick and pay for, and whether a very concentrated market means less competition for consumers."

Bell (TSX:BCE) and Astral Media Inc. (TSX:ACM.A) have pointed out it will control less of the market under the revised deal.

"Even after the sale of half of Astral's French-language specialty TV services, Bell Media would increase its viewing share in this market to 22.6 per cent -- still less than the 31 per cent viewing share enjoyed by Quebecor, but a significant enhancement to market competition nevertheless,'' Bell Media president Kevin Crull said recently. …

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