Industry Update – Bell/Astral, CRTC, APTN

Bell to buy Astral

BCE Inc. announced, on March 16, 2012, its intent to buy Astral Media Inc., pending CRTC approval. The transaction, funded 75% by cash and 25% by BCE Inc. common equity, is valued at around $3.38 billion. As part of the purchase, BCE Inc. assumes $380 million in Astral Media Inc. debt.

A $150 million penalty will be paid by Bell to Astral, should Bell’s acquisition of Astral fall through. If another company courts Astral (as Astral can’t solicit other offers), and Astral ultimately shuns Bell for a “superior proposal,” Astral pays a $100 million termination fee to Bell. Bell has first right to match any “superior” counter-offer.

The Bell/Astral deal attracts critics, including Carleton University journalism professor Dwayne Winseck.

Bell, the largest telecommunications/media company in Canada by market share, wants the eighth-largest telecom/media company. Theoretically, the Astral purchase opens a gateway into Quebec homes, strengthens Bell’s radio reach, and establishes Bell in the premium television arena.

Shareholders can vote on the Bell/Astral transaction, at a meeting to be held on or before May 25, 2012.

CRTC news

FX Canada can now add professional and amateur sports, animation, standup comedy, and improv to its lineup. The caveat: neither animation nor professional sports can each claim more than ten percent of FX Canada’s overall schedule.

It should be noted that both Sportsnet and FX air UFC programming, and the UFC on FX cards pull solid ratings. It’s hard to say if FX Canada will air UFC, but it’s the most obvious reason for FX Canada to move into professional sports.

The CRTC changes the way community television is funded. The funding formula is based on the contribution by each licensed broadcasting distribution undertaking, during the 2009-10 broadcast year. The 2010 contribution level is adjusted every year, to account for inflation. Inflation is tied to the previous year’s version of the Canadian consumer price index.

Once the 2010 contribution level + inflation rises to 1.5 percent of the licensee’s gross broadcasting revenues, each year’s contribution to community television will freeze at 1.5 percent of the licensee’s gross broadcasting revenues. If yearly revenues fall below 2010 levels, the maximum contribution to community television is the lesser of two percent of the licensee’s gross broadcasting revenues, or the 2010 contribution level + inflation. New licensees set aside 1.5 percent of their yearly gross broadcasting revenues on community television.

Before this ruling, licensees devoted up to two percent of their gross broadcasting revenues every year to community television. To make up the 2%-to-1.5% difference, broadcasting distribution undertakings can either pay for community television closed captioning, or move the difference to the Canada Media Fund and/or independent television funds.

Odds and sods

Miles Morrisseau posts on his NativeWritesNow blog, about APTN. Specifically, he takes on the network’s news coverage, and the movies it airs.

CBC Music gets in trouble with SOCAN, over royalty issues.

GlassBOX establishes the Bite Comedy Award, for best comedy short in the National Screen Institute Online Short Film Festival. GlassBOX also commits $50,000 in benefits funding over the next six years, for NSI online initiatives.

The Alberta Ballet’s one-hour, televised performance of Love Lies Bleeding, a 2010 ballet focused on Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s music, airs April 9, 2012 on CBC Television, at 9:00 PM ET/PT. When one reads stories like this, one realizes it’s Stanley Cup Playoffs time again. Time for the one-off specials, unsold pilots, and assorted filler!