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Bell acquires one of Canada's last independent media firms

In a deal valued at $3.38 billion, it has been announced that Bell will acquire Astral Media, giving the largest telecommunications company in Canada a significant increase in French-language content in Quebec, putting it on par with Quebecor. It is a deal that has drawn criticism for once again increasing the amount of media concentration in Canada.

Bell and Astral have had a business relationship for quite some time. "After 15 years as commercial partners, we know each other well and share many important values," said Astral chief executive office Ian Greenberg in a release. Astral currently represents Bell’s single largest content cost – so by purchasing this cost outright, Bell says it will provide them with cost certainty.

The deal includes a net debt of $380 million, and will be funded with a combination of cash and stocks – about 75 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively. Bell says the deal is a fair valuation for both companies, and that Astral’s consistent revenue creation, even in a weak economy, has been an indicator of strong financial performance.

The deal is significant because it represents Bell taking over a large portion of programming in Quebec.

According to Iain Marlow and Susan Krashinsky in The Globe and Mail, during a conference call Friday morning, BCE chief executive office George Cope said "This acquisition puts Bell on par with its largest media and (broadcast distribution) competitor in Quebec," mentioning Quebecor by name.

In a document outlining the content of Friday’s conference call with analysts, the “acceleration of Bell’s French-language media strategy” was stressed, citing Astral as the operator of the “leading French language Specialty TV, Pay TV and radio platforms.”

According the The Globe article, Astral was one of the last remaining – if not largest – independent media companies in Canada. Greenberg, who founded the company with his brothers in 1961, has gone to the CRTC in the past to complain about the amount of media concentration and how it hinders the ability of independents to compete.

Greenberg will now join the board of directors at BCE.

With the acquisition, the only areas of Quebec media that Bell will not be involved in are print and conventional television programming.

The deal is dependent on approval from the CRTC and the Competition Bureau. It will be interesting to see how the CRTC rules, as the transaction represents one large media company outright purchasing another in an age where there has already been much concern voiced over the amount of media concentration in Canada.

Steve Faguy, who often comments on all things media, has broken down what the transaction means on a more micro level. He says that the acquisition is going to run trouble for Bell when it comes to English-language radio. “Both Bell and Astral are major radio players, and the deal would put the combined company in violation of ownership rules that state only two stations in one band/language/market can be owned by the same company,” he writes.

CBC’s community team rounded up some of the reaction to the deal on Twitter this morning. Hint: It wasn't very positive, for the most part.

Belinda Alzner is Associate Editor at, where this story first appeared.

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