BCE submits new Astral bid to CRTC

BCE Inc. and Astral Media Inc. have formally submitted a new proposal to the CRTC that would see the two media companies merge.

More than 99 per cent of shareholders approved an earlier proposal, released in March, that would have seen Bell take over the assets of Montreal-based Astral. But Canada's broadcast regulator nixed the deal on the grounds that it would not have benefited consumers and stifled competition.

"We heard Canadians and the CRTC loud and clear — they want assurance that Astral joining with Bell Media will directly benefit consumers and creators," BCE president George Cope said in a release Monday.

In the release, the two companies claim their new proposal to the CRTC by Astral and Bell addresses the commission's concerns and sets out the steps the companies would take to comply with the relevant viewership thresholds.

But few details of what's changed were provided on Monday. The release said details of the transaction will be made available by the CRTC when it launches its public consultation on the application.

The companies say their new proposal includes a "revised package of tangible benefits" to support Canadian TV and radio content, promote home-grown talent and engage consumers in the broadcasting system.

Bell has also asked for an CRTC exception to allow the Montreal station TSN Radio 690 (CKGM) continue to operate as an English-language sport talk radio channel.

Financial terms look largely similar, with Bell offering $50 for every common share of Astral, which means the value of the transaction will stay about the same — roughly $3.38 billion. The lone new financial goodie appears to be a one-time 50-cent cash dividend for every Astral share.

BCE says it has extended its deadline for the deal until June 2013, with an option to extend that until the end of July, giving ample time for various regulators to get the necessary assurances and see it through this time.

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

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