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BCE Boosts Quebec Presence With Deal To Buy Astral Media


Canadian telecom company BCE, Inc. (BCE,BCE.TO), the parent company of Bell Canada, agreed Friday to acquire Québec's largest independent media company Astral Media, Inc. (AAIAF.PK, ACM_A.TO) for C$50 per share in a deal valued at about C$3.38 billion, including C$380 million of debt.

The deal will complement Bell's continuing expansion process of its service and network teams in Québec and across Canada to support new services such as Fibe TV and Fibe Internet. It will also establish Bell as the leader in French-language media, with the acquisition of 13 French-language channels through the deal.

"Bringing together two respected and longstanding Montréal brands, Bell's acquisition of Astral firmly establishes our company as Québec's media leader. Bell is gaining a well-seasoned national Astral management team, dramatically expanding our French-language content, and more than leveling the playing field with our largest broadcast media competitor in Québec," BCE President and CEO George Cope said in a statement.

Following the closure of the deal, Montreal, Canada-based Astral Media will become a part of Bell Media business unit, which was formed in April 2011 following Bell's acquisition of Canada's largest media company CTV. Astral President & CEO Ian Greenberg, who is the leading Canadian media executive, will also join the BCE Board of Directors at closing.

The offer price of C$50 per share represents a 38 percent premium to Astral's closing price of C$36.25 on Thursday. The acquisition will be financed with a combination of debt and equity, and will be immediately earnings and free cash flow per share accretive.

The deal will see Verdun, Canada-based BCE acquire Astral's leading specialty and pay television channels, radio stations, digital media properties and out-of-home advertising platforms in Québec and across the rest of Canada.

The majority of the voting shares of Astral, including holders of special shares and the largest minority holder of Class B Subordinate Voting Shares, have agreed to vote their shares in favor of the deal.

The deal, primarily subject to court and shareholder approvals, has the unanimous approval of Astral board and recommends that Astral shareholders approve it in a voting to be held before May 25.

In a similar recent media industry deal, Bell completed the C$3.2 billion acquisition of Canadian television network CTV in early January to form the Bell Media business unit.

BCE closed Thursday's regular trading session at $40.38, up $0.18 on a volume of 0.94 million shares. BCE.TO closed on the Toronto Stock Exchange at C$40.06, up C$0.11 on a volume of 4.05 million shares.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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