BCE's takeover of CTV approved
The federal broadcast regulator has approved the $1.3-billion takeover of CTVglobemedia by telecom firm BCE Inc.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said Monday it will require BCE to invest $245 million in the Canadian broadcasting system over the next seven years as a condition of the approval.
BCE had argued it should not be assessed the transaction benefits fees again, since it paid them the first time it bought the broadcaster in 2000.
As well, the CRTC said, money under the "tangible benefits" package should be spent on allowing satellite carriage for at least 43 additional television services, sustain the financially troubled A-Channel stations for at least three years and enhance local news programming in several cities.
Finally, the regulator imposed a moratorium on BCE using its dominant position as both broadcaster and carrier of programs through Bell Express-Vu satellite to discriminate against other carriers until the CRTC holds public hearings on convergence and vertical integration.
"We are pleased that BCE has addressed our questions regarding how this transaction would contribute to the vitality of the Canadian broadcasting system," CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein said in a release.
Deal should close by summer
Bell said the approval means it is on track to close the acquisition early in the second quarter, sooner than expected.
Ian Morrison of the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a public interest lobby group, said the decision shows the advantages and perils of vertical integration, whereby one company controls both the content and pipeline it is carried on.
Canadian television is now dominated by vertically integrated carriers and broadcasters — BCE, Quebecor, Rogers Communications and Shaw Communications.
"Now that all of the big television networks and services are owned by big distributors, these distributors have deep enough pockets they can afford to invest [in Canadian content]," he said. "The downside is less competition. The more concentrated these people are, the less diversity there is."
BCE, formerly known as Bell Canada Enterprises, originally bought CTV in early 2000 for $2.3 billion. Later that year, the company combined its stake in the broadcaster with holdings in the Globe and Mail newspaper to form Bell Globemedia,
In 2005, BCE sold the bulk of its holding in Bell Globemedia to Woodbridge, Torstar and the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. Since 2007, Bell Globemedia has been known as CTVglobemedia.
The CRTC said BCE's latest purchase will provide stability to the CTV network of stations.