Bell resurrects takeover bid for Astral

Pay television and radio operator Astral Media confirmed Friday it is in talks with Canadian telecom and media giant BCE to resurrect a takeover deal rejected by regulators.

"While it is Astral's policy not to comment on market rumors or speculation, Astral today confirms that it is in discussions with Bell to continue pursuing regulatory approvals for Bell's acquisition of Astral," Astral said in a statement.

The original Can$3.38 billion (US$3.37 billion) cash-and-stock deal unveiled in March would have firmed BCE, owner of Bell Canada, as Canada's biggest media giant.

But the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) denied the takeover bid last month, saying it "placed significant market power in the hands of" BCE.

This would have created the potential for BCE to exert unfair market power and hinder competition, the CRTC said.

The daily Globe and Mail earlier Friday reported that BCE could amend the deal by proposing to sell off English language parts of Astral's 84 radio stations and 20 pay and specialty television channels before taking it back to the CRTC for approval.

"The core challenge for BCE will be to satisfy the CRTC that the reshaped takeover plan will not give the company undue power in the television sector," the newspaper noted.

BCE already controls numerous television and radio services, as well as a national broadcasting distribution service. It is the largest Internet service provider in Canada, the second largest wireless service provider and the third largest television distributor.

According to the CRTC, the old deal would have given BCE a combined 42.7 percent of English-language viewership in Canada, and made it the leader in French-language media in Quebec province.

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