Posted in Media, Radio

Competition Bureau deal with Bell/Astral: No change to plans for TSN 690

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)
  • Musimax
  • MusiquePlus
  • 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.

23 thoughts on “Competition Bureau deal with Bell/Astral: No change to plans for TSN 690

  1. Pingback: Bell/Astral Merger Take 2; Two Ottawa Stations Sold

  2. Jael Bloemberg

    I know for a fact that Astral Radio had “RDS” signage installed at their amalgamated studios on Papineau/René-Lévesque when CHOM, CJFM and CJAD were moving in (long before the first CRTC ruling). They both thought the first deal would be approved on all fronts by the CRTC without delay. Neither Bell nor Astral care for TSN 690.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I know for a fact that Astral Radio had “RDS” signage installed at their amalgamated studios on Papineau/René-Lévesque

      Are you sure you’re not thinking of the Bell building across the street?

      Reply
  3. Jordan

    Very Strange to see the competition bureau intervene and give a green light before the regulatory (CRTC) approves the deal…….i’m sure others will also wonder how this all played out

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Very Strange to see the competition bureau intervene and give a green light before the regulatory (CRTC) approves the deal.

      The Competition Bureau and CRTC work independently of each other. One doesn’t have to wait for the other.

      Reply
      1. Jordan

        I have not seen this historically in other deals, usually the competition bureau acts only after the CRTC approves a deal, also they mentioned specifically who the buyer is……Corus Entertainment, it’s rare

        Reply
  4. Alex H

    It will be funny as heck to have Bell do all this, and then have the CRTC come back and say “well, no… still no good”.

    Sucks to live in Canada.

    Reply
    1. Roy

      It’s about time somebody stops Bell and their plan for world domination. George Coe, the CEO of Bell is like a villain from some Bond movie. Talk about “the world is not enough”!

      Reply
  5. Marc

    The CRTC proved it actually had balls when it refused this travesty the first time around. No reason why they can’t do it again. Unless, of course, the right people have been paid off.

    From the spokesholes:

    Astral and Bell heard the loud and clear desire of Montréal sports fans to retain TSN Radio 690 as an English-language sports station

    Total bullshit.

    Reply
  6. William

    Merger or not, Anglo radio in Montreal is terrible.

    When is this new station, 600 AM, meant to debut?

    Reply
  7. Jake

    The CB has a very arrow mandate. If the deal does not lead to a monopoly (2 companies dominating is technically not a monopoly) and if here is no evidence of price fixing, they have no grounds to reject the transaction. The CRTC on the other hand has a much bigger mandate. It can look at influence, cultural impact and public reaction. Analogy is like an optometrist can give certify that your eyes are perfect but cannot give you a clean bill of health.

    Reply
  8. Phillip Blancher

    Ugh. The Bear to Corus, might as well just sign it off the air in Ottawa now. The Bear is a shadow of itself after it’s rebranding to Virgin and then flush of Virgin back to the Bear. Corus will ruin that with it’s Toronto-centric formulaic programming. Look at what it did to CFNY.

    Reply
  9. Bilbo

    In your Gazette article,

    “It (Bell) also set up a website, savetsn690.ca, to encourage the station’s listeners to write to the commission in support of that request.”

    Bell has created a website to save TSN 690. Now Bell wants the Loyal TSN690 listeners, that one year ago it was willing to ignore and thumb their nose at, to get behind them. WTF

    No way. I like the station the way it is. Bell can sell off CJAD or something else.

    Reply
  10. Mario

    What surprises me about Bell/Astral vis-a-vis TSN690 is their 180 position on the station in less than a year.
    Question is, how credible will Bell/Astral be when in front of the CRTC panel when hearings are held in May?

    Reply
  11. Dave

    You know what else saves TSN690? The CRTC completely rejecting this merger once again and for all. Why hasn’t someone pointed this out yet?

    Reply
  12. Pingback: Bell/Astral Take 2: The Proposal – Fagstein

  13. Rob

    I sent a letter through the SaveTSN690 website and just looked at the CRTC interventions and saw bell is submitting all those letters as support to takeover Astral. I want the radio station to keep going but NEVER said I wanted Bell to get Astral! What the hell is this shit? I feel like we’ve all been used!

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I sent a letter through the SaveTSN690 website and just looked at the CRTC interventions and saw bell is submitting all those letters as support to takeover Astral. I want the radio station to keep going but NEVER said I wanted Bell to get Astral! What the hell is this shit? I feel like we’ve all been used!

      Bell would not be needing an exception to the common ownership policy if it wasn’t for the takeover of Astral. If you feel Bell has misled you and submitted false comments on your behalf, or would like to write separately to the CRTC against the Bell/Astral merger, it’s not too late to do so.

      Reply

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