Bell/Astral Take 2 would give it near-monopoly on Montreal English radio

It’s official: Bell is trying again. The company announced Monday morning that it has reached a new agreement to acquire Astral Media, and will submit a revised proposal to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, one that will address the commission’s concerns about Bell becoming too big.

Details of the bid won’t be known until the CRTC publishes the application, which could take months, but it’s expected Bell will sell off some English-language television assets to stay under the CRTC’s ownership cap, and Bell says it will improve its tangible benefits package (with at least 85% of it going to on-screen initiatives).

CKGM will stay English

One detail we do know concerns CKGM. Bell says it will ask the CRTC for an exemption to the common ownership rules to allow it to keep TSN Radio 690 as an English station. From their FAQ:

We heard sports fans in Montréal loud and clear. Their passion for sports talk radio is unparalleled. Loyal and devoted, they responded in droves in an effort to preserve CKGM (TSN Radio 690) as an English-language sports radio station. As a result, as part of our new application, we are filing a request for an exception to the CRTC’s Radio Common Ownership Policy to keep TSN Radio 690 as an English-language sports radio station. As a result of tremendous listener response, we think it’s a discussion worth having. We believe an exception to the Policy is reasonable, consistent with previous regulatory practice, and the only way to preserve CKGM as an English sports talk station. Montréal sports radio fans deserve it.

An exemption from the policy is certainly what many listeners were calling for after Bell decided to blame the CRTC for its decision to request TSN be turned into RDS Radio. But it would also mean four of the five English-language commercial radio stations in Montreal (or four of the six if you include the soon-to-be-launched TTP Media station at 600AM) would be owned by the same company.

Normally, CRTC rules state that one company can own no more than two AM and two FM stations in a single market (English and French Montreal are considered separate markets), and that in markets with fewer than eight commercial radio stations, one company can own no more than three.

The combined Bell-Astral would have a 61% total market share and a 79% commercial market share in English Montreal.

It’s odd to hear Bell say on one hand that it understands the CRTC’s concerns about concentration of ownership on a national scale and then argue it needs to own more radio stations in Montreal than the policy would normally allow. (Of course, it’s just as odd for Cogeco to cry about Astral’s market power in radio when it got a similar exemption allowing it to own three French-language commercial FM radio stations in Montreal. In that case, it was so it could hold on to CHMP 98.5FM as the flagship station of a Quebec-wide radio news network.)

Since there’s no application to change CKGM’s licence, they can’t turn around and make it French if the CRTC decides not to allow Bell to own four stations. Instead, it or one of the other former Astral stations would likely be sold to bring Bell under the ownership cap. And since CKGM has the poorest ratings, it would likely be the one to go.

So while RDS Radio isn’t an imminent threat, CKGM and its staff aren’t out of the woods yet.

Say No To Bell vs. Canadians Deserve More

If there’s one thing Bell has learned most from its previous attempt, it’s that it needs a better PR campaign to convince Canadians to be on its side. So it launched along with a corresponding Twitter account. Expect to be bombarded by ads from Bell touting the awesomeness of this deal, particularly on television and radio stations owned by Bell Media and Astral. And, if Quebecor and others aren’t convinced this new deal addresses all of their concerns (I’m guessing it won’t), expect a similar ad campaign from Say No To Bell on channels owned by Quebecor and Cogeco, and possibly Rogers and others as well.


The public will have a chance to comment on the application when it’s published by the commission.

12 thoughts on “Bell/Astral Take 2 would give it near-monopoly on Montreal English radio

  1. Alex H

    What part of “NO!” do these people not understand?

    Even if this mess snakes past the CRTC, this will likely crash land on the competition bureau, who will send them packing.

    There is absolutely no justification for any company holding such a larger market percentage in any area, plain and simple.

    I am starting to think that they don’t understand “NO!”, so we may all have to turn it up to “F–K NO!”

  2. Keith Rowe

    I don’t buy anything Bell has to say…the No side will just start up again to shoot down Bell’s bold face lies to torpedo TSN690. I’ve worked on behalf of Bell in the past and i know their lowdown unscrupulous business methods how they operate

  3. Mario

    Although Bell has asked for an exemption to keep TSN690, can the CRTC demand that Bell-Astral sell one of the three other Astral owned radio stations instead (i.e. CJAD, CHOM, or Virgin)?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Although Bell has asked for an exemption to keep TSN690, can the CRTC demand that Bell-Astral sell one of the three other Astral owned radio stations instead (i.e. CJAD, CHOM, or Virgin)?

      The CRTC could theoretically set whatever conditions it wants on approval. It did something similar in 2007 when CTV bought CHUM. It originally proposed to keep the Citytv network and sell off its A Channel stations. The CRTC said no, and CTV sold off Citytv to Rogers. The A Channel stations have since been rebranded CTV Two.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Would they be off the hook if they sold CJAD and kept 690?

      As far as the CRTC’s common ownership policy, they could sell CJAD, or CHOM, or Virgin Radio. It’s a maximum of three stations total, and no more than two on each band. But, like the larger purchase, the CRTC might look at less quantitative measures.

  4. Michael D

    Well well, you all know that I resurfeace on this one..What a crock !! Like others here, why don’t they understand what ” NO” means…they say they heard Montrealers loud and clear about the TSN/RDS thing….but thety didn’t hear us as loud most likely, that we don’t want to have Bell get bigger…

    This is just cosmetic dressing on thier part with plenty of smoke and mirrors…For starters, why not just sell TSN Radio to TTP, who have stated they’re very interested and would make for a good synergy an all-news and all-sports operation….After all TSN Radio is really on their own now in terms of fellow radio allies.

    Why do they need 4 stations.. as for the tangible benefits package.. I am assuming meaning more money for Canadian network production like shows like shows as in Night Heat or Flashpoint, or how about more money for local stations to do more local shows, and I give, for example, of shows in the past, like On Assignment, that investigative show, Sports Magazine with Ron Reusch, or a Mc Gowan’s World, or the consumer show that Terry DiMonte once hosted…all the other network shows we can see anywhere on any network…

    Why don’t these corporate suits just get it..I, for one, will send an intervention again but this time ask to appear in person..They won’t know what hit them when I get through with my presentation.

    We got to stop them again and SAY NO TO BELL, one more time, we did it once and we can do it again….Are you listening Mr. Cope and Mr. Krull..

  5. Pefder Magfrok

    Say no to Bell, but heck, why not show some intelligence and say no to commercial radio. The commercial radio landscape is basically “Turn on radio, turn off brain.” Oh, there I go being elitist again. Doh.

    1. Michael D

      Not a question of turning off or on..but more choice of another and new player like TTP coming to town..CJAD has grown stale and complacent, they’ve had competition before but the competition in the past wasn’t run by news professionals like Steve Kowch and Jim Connell….meaning this will be intelligent radio and hopefully more hip..and not having to worry about hearing Andrew Carter’s taps and knocks on the desk…..Didn’t another commentator here say that as well on another posting.


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