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Canada’s Bell reacts furiously to CRTC blocking its Astral takeover

Canadian telco Bell has reacted angrily to media regulator the CRTC blocking its attempted C$3.4 billion takeover of TV company Astral. Bell said it was shocked by the decision and it will ask the federal cabinet to force the CRTC “follow its own regulatory policy”

In a strongly worded statement, the telco said the decision breached the CRTC’s own “Diversity of Voices” policy and has put paid to hundreds of millions of dollars of new investment in content.

The CRTC said that the mooted deal would have created a concentration of media ownership and was not in the public interest. Its models showed that a merged Bell-Astral would control over a third of both the English-language and the French-language TV markets in Canada.

“BCE failed to persuade us that the deal would benefit Canadians,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC. “It would have placed significant market power in the hands of one of the country’s largest media companies. We could not have ensured a robust Canadian broadcasting system without imposing extensive and intrusive safeguards, which would have been to the detriment of the entire industry.”

George Cope, president and CEO of Bell Canada said:. “We met all the CRTC’s rules, indeed our acquisition of Astral was based directly on the CRTC’s currently in-place Diversity of Voices policy. The wide-ranging benefits to Canadians of the transaction are clear, but the CRTC has told consumers that they and the rules in place just don’t matter.”

Mirko Bibic, Bell’s chief legal and regulatory officer added: “Canadian broadcasting needs significant new investment, fresh ideas and increased choice in a time of cable company dominance in media and accelerating competition from foreign giants who invest little to nothing in the Canadian broadcasting system.”

Montreal-based Astral runs over 20 pay and basic cable channels in Canada including The Movie Network, Historia, Musimax and the Canadian versions of HBO, Cartoon Network and Disney Junior.

Bell announced in March its intention to buy Astral. Canadian cablers opposed the deal from the outset and a group of MSOs joined forces to create a “Say No To Bell” campaign.