Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bell invests in 'TV everywhere'

BCE acquires Astral for $3.4B

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Canada's largest telecom firm, BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE), is acquiring specialty television and radio broadcaster Astral media in a $3.4-billion deal aimed at creating a media powerhouse poised to take on rivals in providing digital content to consumers.

BCE chief executive George Cope said Friday the deal gives Bell important new content for online services and mobile devices like smartphones and tablet computers.

"It fits perfectly with what we are trying to do," Cope told a news conference in Montreal. "We believe TV everywhere is absolutely where the market is going."

Cope said Bell has 200,000 to 300,000 customers now watching its mobile TV services and wants to increase the numbers, as well as sell to its competitors.

The deal includes Astral's (TSX:ACM.A) radio and television stations across the country, but Cope stressed it's particularly important to make his company a media leader in Quebec where it competes with Quebecor (TSX:QBR.B) and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

"The coming together of Bell and Astral puts us now head to head with our competitors in the marketplace, be it Quebecor's Videotron and CBC," Cope said in a conference call with analysts to explain the deal.

Astral chief executive Ian Greenberg also said Bell will benefit from his company's Quebec assets, which include radio stations such as classic rock station CHOM FM in Montreal and in Saguenay and Quebec City, among others in the province.

"The reason why this acquisition made a lot of sense for Bell is to give them a large competitive position in Quebec," Greenberg told the news conference.

Astral-owned pay television channels include the Movie Network, which carries HBO and Showtime series, and the Family Channel, which will allow Bell to push that content across multiple devices to attract more customers and advertisers.

The deal follows a move by Bell in 2010 to buy the rest of the CTV assets it didn't already own in a bid to broadcast the network's programs not only on television but also on computers, tablets and smartphones, a strategy its competitors Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) and Quebecor Inc. are also pursuing.

-- The Canadian Press

The holdings

vs. the rivals

BCE Inc., Canada's largest telecommunications company, is buying Astral Media in a deal valued at $3.38 billion. Here is a look at what media assets BCE, Astral and their rivals own:

BCE (TSX:BCE): Bell Media owns 28 conventional television stations, including CTV, and 30 specialty channels, including sports network TSN and French-language channel RDS. Other TV assets include Much Music, the Discovery Channel, Bravo, Animal Planet and Business News Network. Bell Media also owns 33 radio stations and dozens of websites, including Sympatico.ca

Astral Media (TSX:ACM.A): Astral owns 24 specialty and pay television services including HBO Canada, the Movie Network, Family, Teletoon, Music Plus and Cine Pop. Astral also has 84 licensed radio stations in 50 markets across Canada under brands like Virgin Radio and EZ Rock.

Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B): The cable and wireless company operates 55 radio stations across Canada. Its TV stable includes the Citytv network, multicultural OMNI stations, Sportsnet and the Shopping Channel. Its publishing business produces several magazines, such as Macleans, Chatelaine, Flare, Hello! Canada, L'actuality and Canadian Business.

Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B): The Montreal-based empire owns TVA, the largest French-language private broadcaster in North America. Quebecor also controls Sun Media, which has 43 paid and free daily newspapers and more than 200 community publications as well as the Canoe.ca website.

Shaw Communications Inc. (TSX:SJR.B): The Calgary-based cable company owns the Global Television network, as well as 18 specialty channels, including HGTV Canada, the Food Network Canada, History Television and Showcase.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2012 B4

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