Astral shares halted after report of new takeover deal with BCE

MONTREAL – Trading in shares of Astral Media Inc. (TSX:ACM.A) was halted Friday after a report that BCE Inc. was planning to make a new takeover offer for the broadcasting and advertising company.

The CRTC killed a $3.4-billion deal last month, saying it wasn’t in the best interests of Canadians.

Telecom giant BCE (TSX:BCE) and Astral Media Inc. stayed mum on a reworking of the friendly takeover deal on Friday.

“We will not comment,” an Astral spokesman said. BCE also declined to comment.

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported that those familiar with the talks say the new deal seeks to overcome regulatory opposition with a plan to auction off a number of Astral’s English broadcast assets.

Both Astral and BCE have said they want to try to find a way to make the deal work and win CRTC approval.

Astral CEO Ian Greenberg recently said he still wants his company to be bought and was looking for ways to have the acquisition go ahead.

BCE, which owns the CTV television network, sees Astral as a way to increase the amount of digital content for computers and mobile devices like smartphones and tablets as well as traditional TV.

Astral Media owns 25 TV specialty services including the Movie Network, and more than 80 radio stations. The deadline for the deal to be completed has been extended to Dec. 16.

Bell has asked the federal cabinet to get involved, but Ottawa has suggested there’s little appetite to ask the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to revisit its decision.

The CRTC said if it had allowed the deal, BCE would have controlled almost 45 per cent of the English TV viewership and almost 35 per cent of the French market.

Bell disagreed, saying it would have been under the 35 per cent limit in both the English TV market.

The discrepancy arises because Bell includes U.S. competitors in the calculations, while the CRTC did not.