The Competition Bureau issued a statement on Monday saying it has come to a deal with Bell over its acquisition of Astral Media. Combined with a statement from Bell, we’re learning some details about this deal and how Bell will avoid owning so much stuff it threatens competition in Canadian radio and television.
We’ll learn more when the CRTC publishes the application this week.
What we know so far:
Bell has come to an agreement with Corus that will see the latter buy the following assets for $400.6 million:
- CKQB-FM The Bear 106.9 Ottawa (Astral)
- CJOT-FM EZ Rock 99.7 Ottawa (Astral)
- 50% of Teletoon/Teletoon Retro in both French and English (Corus already owns the other half)
- 50% of Cartoon Network (Canada) (Corus already owns the other half)
- 50% of Historia
- 50% of Séries+
A separate deal between Shaw and Corus, which are both owned by the Shaw family, will see Corus own the other half of Historia and Séries+, plus ABC Spark. Shaw will take Corus’s 20% stake in Food Network and $95 million in cash. Corus has a press release on the two deals here.
Bell will also sell the following assets at auction:
- Family (which includes Disney Junior)
- Disney XD
- Disney Jr. (French)
- CKCE-FM Kool 101.5 Calgary (Bell)
- CHBM-FM Boom 97.3 Toronto (Astral)
- CFXJ-FM Flow 93.5 Toronto (Bell)
- CKZZ-FM Virgin 95.3 Vancouver (Astral)
- CHHR-FM Shore 104.3 Vancouver (Astral)
- CISL AM 650 Vancouver (Astral)
- CHIQ-FM Fab 94.3 Winnipeg (Bell)
- CFQX-FM FX 104.1 Winnipeg (Astral)
Corus can’t buy any of the eight radio stations listed here because of CRTC ownership limits in those markets (two AM and two FM in each market). Corus doesn’t own any stations in the Ottawa market.
The list of radio stations for sale (including the two to Corus) is unchanged from the one Bell presented the CRTC last year. That’s interesting because the CRTC didn’t particularly appreciate Bell’s plan to sell off some Bell stations and some Astral stations in order to keep the best ones (with two exceptions, the ones for sale are the lowest-rated ones in those markets of the combined Bell/Astral holdings).
In its decision in October, the CRTC said:
the decision to include certain Bell Media radio stations in the divestiture plan can be viewed as an attempt by BCE to trade underperforming stations for successful ones, which would not provide a benefit to the Canadian broadcasting system or create the conditions for healthy competition. Selling less profitable stations could reinforce BCE’s position in these markets, make the entrance of new competitors more difficult and reduce the total tangible benefits paid on Astral’s radio stations.
What does this mean for TSN 690?
No Montreal radio stations are listed, even though the purchase of three English commercial stations would put Bell over the limit in this city. When the new deal was announced, Bell said it would ask for an exemption allowing it to keep CKGM as an English station. That remains unchanged:
Astral and Bell heard the loud and clear desire of Montréal sports fans to retain TSN Radio 690 as an English-language sports station (Bell had earlier proposed to convert the station to a French-language RDS sports station to meet CRTC rules). Bell has filed a separate application with the CRTC requesting an exception from application of the common ownership policy to allow the continued operation of TSN Radio 690 by Bell Media as an English-language sports station.
This proposal, though it might be favourable to fans of the station, is far from a done deal. Buying CHOM, CJFM (Virgin) and CJAD would mean Bell would own four of the five commercial English-language radio stations in Montreal, or four of six when the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy station at 600 AM launches. Would owning such a large portion of the market be too much for the commission to consider?
Expect opposition from Cogeco, which owns The Beat, the only station that wouldn’t be owned by Bell. Their opposition will be somewhat hypocritical, mind you, because Cogeco got its own exemption from the CRTC in 2010 allowing it to keep three French FM stations in Montreal (Rythme FM, CKOI and 98.5).
The fate of TSN 690 will be up to the CRTC. It could accept the exemption or force Bell to sell or shut down one of the four stations to remain under the limit (Bell indicated previously that if it had to sell a station, TSN would be the one to go). Selling the station might be difficult, because Bell would retain rights to Canadiens games, and TSN has previously said the station has never made money doing all-sports.