Concluding that there would be no benefit to consumers, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission rejected a $3.38 billion bid by Bell Canada to buy Astral Media, the independent company from Quebec best known for its premium cable channels and radio stations.
With the rejection, the country has been sent the message that the federal regulator would like to limit the amount of programming owned by companies that also control the media pipelines.
The decision surprised many in the industry who assumed a merger of the two companies was all but inevitable — even though it would have required the sale of frequencies in major markets where Bell would subsequently exceed the current maximum of two AMs and two FMs.
Along with its presence in Quebec, the appeal of the company to Bell was the exclusive Canadian rights to premium Hollywood programming, which includes the popular offerings from HBO.
Bell told the CRTC that it would use that content to anchor a Netflix-like service that streamed shows like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire to digital devices. Presumably, some Canadian shows would have a shot at popularity through that platform, too.
Federal approval of the merger was considered so inevitable upon its announcement in March that hosts on Toronto’s Newstalk 1010 often referred to its imminent new ownership. The report of the rejection might have come as a relief to newscasters who might have lost their jobs after moving under the same corporate roof as CTV.
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