Competition Bureau OK's BCE-Astral deal, with conditions

Canada's Competition Bureau has reached an agreement with BCE that would allow the $3.38-billion takeover of Astral Media, but requires Bell to divest itself of some Astral properties.

Agreement still requires CRTC approval

After being rejected last October, Bell and Astral are trying to merge a second time. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Canada's Competition Bureau has cleared BCE Inc.'s $3.38-billion takeover of Astral Media, but has attached conditions.

Under the deal, BCE's Bell division would have to sell a number of Astral's pay and specialty channels, including Teletoon, The Family Channel and Disney XD, as well as a number of radio stations.

Media company Corus Entertainment will purchase six of the TV stations and two radio stations for $400 million. The others will be sold in an auction process.

Bell would be prohibited from imposing "restrictive bundling requirements" on providers seeking to carry The Movie Network – which includes HBO Canada – or Super Écran.

Bell would retain eight of Astral's television channels, along with 77 radio stations and the company's out-of-home advertising business.

BCE CEO George Cope welcomed the decision, saying it "preserves the tremendous value the transaction represents to consumers, the Canadian media community, and Astral and Bell shareholders."

If approved, Bell says it will have an English-language viewing share of 35.7 per cent, two per cent higher than it currently does. Its French-language share will be 23 per cent.

The deal will still need to be approved by the CRTC.

The CRTC rejected BCE's earlier takeover of Astral last October, saying it would put too much power in the hands of one company and threaten the competitive media landscape in Canada.

BCE submitted a second proposal a month later, which it said addressed the commission's concerns.

Astral Media owns 25 TV specialty services, including the Movie Network, and more than 80 radio stations.