The CRTC ruled today that BCE Inc., owner of Bell Mobility, could not purchase Astral Media. The $3.4 billion deal would have put over 100 radio stations, 30 standard television stations and over 50 specialty services in the hands of one company. While the deal would not have affected the mobile industry directly, it stood to impact the price of content for competing companies such as Rogers, TELUS, Shaw and others.
Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman of the CRTC, said in a statement, “BCE failed to persuade us that the deal would benefit Canadians. 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.”
Astral Media owns specialty stations such as TMN and HBO Canada, which are part of Bell’s growing Mobile TV offering. Bell claimed that they would have created a Netflix competitor if the deal went through, in order to better fend off competition from the service and others like it, which are increasingly steering Canadian eyes away from traditional broadcasters such as network television.
Most of the deal’s opponents argued that services, from television to mobile, would become more expensive for Canadians. BCE claimed the deal would not have stifled competition and would have led to better Canadian content and lower content prices down the road.
Update: Rogers sent out a press release with a statement on the decision. “We commend the CRTC for this courageous decision. We believe that Canadians should have fair and open access to content. This is a good day for consumers.”
Update #2: Bell has now issued a statement, saying they are “shocked by CRTC rejection of Astral transaction,” further stating that they’ll “request that the federal Cabinet intervene in the CRTC’s decision to reject Bell’s acquisition of Astral Media. Bell is appalled that the CRTC would come to a decision that so negatively impacts Canadian consumers and the national broadcast industry, contravenes its own policy and is tainted by behind-the-scenes lobbying by Bell’s cable rivals.”