POLITICS

Bell wants to sell Astral assets that must be sold as quickly as possible

06/28/2013 08:23 EDT | Updated 08/28/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - BCE Inc. is in the process of selling off a number of Astral Media's radio and TV specialty stations as part of the regulatory approval for the $3.4-billion acquisition, but says it won't delay the closing of the deal.

The takeover of Astral Media by BCE Inc. is expected to close on July 5, the companies said Friday following the final approval by the CRTC.

The broadcast regulator signed off a revised version of the deal on Thursday on the condition Bell sell a number of Astral's English and French specialty TV channels, including the Cartoon Network, Disney DX and Teletoon, along with some of its English-language radio stations.

BCE spokesman Mark Langton said the telecom giant was holding an auction to sell off the stations.

"The proceeds will offset total financing requirements for the Astral acquisition," Langton said.

"The unsold assets are in trust until approved by the regulator so the process won't delay closing of the deal."

When the takeover of Astral is finalized, Bell's share of the English-language market will grow to 35.8 per cent, while its share of the French-language market will be 22.6 per cent.

Under the regulatory approval, Bell must adhere to the CRTC's code of conduct for commercial arrangements that limit anti-competitive behaviour and treat independent programmers and distributors fairly.

Bell must also give its competitors "reasonable access" to advertising opportunities on its radio stations, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled.

The CRTC is also requiring Bell to spend $246.9 million on "tangible benefits'' over the next seven years — $72 million more than the company proposed.

Some of those tangible benefits include paying for initiatives in the radio and television sectors that are meant to create more Canadian programming, and spending on Canadian films and festivals to promote them.

BCE said the combined company will be led by a team of senior Astral and Bell Media executives. Astral president and CEO Ian Greenberg will also join the BCE board of directors.