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Competition Bureau Cites Concerns About BCE’s Astral Bid

Canada’s Competition Bureau said it is reviewing concerns BCE Inc.’s bid for Astral Media Inc. will increase concentration in the broadcasting industry, creating a potential obstacle to completing the acquisition.

The agency is “aware that a number of serious concerns have been expressed by market participants related to the effect that increased concentration and vertical integration in the broadcasting industry are said to be having on consumers and other television programming providers,” Competition Bureau Commissioner Melanie Aitken said in a statement posted on its website.

BCE, which reports second-quarter results tomorrow, agreed to buy Astral for C$3 billion ($3 billion) in March to acquire French-language programming in Quebec including music and pay-TV channels MusiquePlus and Super Ecran. That deal came just three months after BCE agreed to buy a stake in the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and Toronto Raptors basketball franchise. It also paid C$3 billion in cash and debt for broadcaster CTV in 2011, which gave it 30 specialty channels.

A website, has been put together by a coalition of cable competitors, Cogeco Cable Inc., Eastlink and Quebecor Inc. to spur opposition to the deal.

“Should the Bureau determine that the proposed transaction is likely to substantially lessen or prevent competition, we would not hesitate to take appropriate action,” Aitken said.

Astral fell 1.6 percent today to close at C$48.44 in Toronto. BCE, based in Montreal, climbed 1.4 percent to C$43.25, its highest level since January, 2001.

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