10/25/2012 04:12 EDT | Updated 12/25/2012 05:12 EST

Astral says the time limit on the $3.4-billion takeover deal with Bell extended

MONTREAL - Bell (TSX:BCE) is extending the deadline for its takeover offer for Astral Media Inc. (TSX:ACM.A) to Dec. 16 in hopes the deal can still win regulatory approval.

The agreement had been expected to close this fall, but the CRTC rejected the takeover, saying it wasn't in the best interests of Canadians.

Bell has asked federal cabinet to intervene, but Ottawa has suggested it has little appetite to do so.

Astral said Thursday that either it or Bell can again extend the expiry date for the $3.4-billion deal to Jan. 15, 2013.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said if it had allowed the deal, BCE would have controlled almost 45 per cent of the English TV viewership and almost 35 per cent of the French.

Bell disagrees, saying Bell and Astral combined would have an English-language TV market share of 33.5 per cent and the combined companies would have a 24.4 per cent stake in the French-language TV market, both within the rules.

The discrepancy arises because Bell includes U.S. competitors in the calculations, while the CRTC does not.