Bell has run off to join the circus – specifically the Cirque du Soleil – announcing a joint venture production deal with the world-famous circus troupe to develop TV, film and digital content.

BCE’s Bell Media division said its alliance with the Quebec-based circus would develop entertainment projects for sale and distribution around the world.

"Bell’s multi-million dollar investment with Cirque du Soleil represents two great Montreal companies coming together to further develop Quebec’s world-renowned creative industry," said Bell chief executive George Cope in a statement.

Cirque du Soleil executive producer Jacques Methe said the new venture "instantly strengthens our ability to share Quebec's creative savoir-faire with the world."

Under terms of the alliance, Cirque du Soleil will contribute its library of existing content to the partnership. That includes its television productions and an upcoming 3D feature film, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away, that will be released in December. The joint venture will also develop new projects.

Venture 'linked' to Bell's Astral Media takeover

News of the deal comes at a time when Bell is facing considerable opposition over its controversial $3.4-billion bid to take over Astral Media. Competitors and consumer groups have decried the Bell-Astral takeover, saying the combination would concentrate Canadian media even further in Bell's hands.

Astral Media owns 24 specialty and pay television services including HBO Canada, the Movie Network, Family, Teletoon, Music Plus, CinéPop and others. Astral also has 84 radio stations in 50 markets across Canada under brands like Virgin Radio and EZ Rock.

Bell Media owns 28 conventional TV channels including CTV and 30 specialty channels including TSN. Other notable assets include 33 radio stations, French sports channel RDS, music channel MuchMusic, business channel BNN, and the Sympatico.ca website.

A release from Bell said the Cirque partnership was “linked to Bell’s pending acquisition of Astral Media,” noting that it had separately committed to investing $80 million in Quebec content development when it joins with Astral.

Bell’s attempt to take over Astral Media faces hearings next month before the broadcast regulator, the CRTC. It also needs the approval of competition authorities.

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