Astral Media Inc.
In Montreal, four brothers founded a photo company, Angreen Photo Inc., which became the jumping off point for what was to become Astral Media, owner of the largest group of radio stations in Canada, with additional major ownerships in both conventional and specialty television channels. The brothers, Harold, Harvey, Sidney and Ian Greenberg, would each have significant contributions to make to the evolution of this exceptional company.
Having acquired the Bellevue Pathe photo finishing labs in Montreal in 1963, Angreen was well placed to apply for and to be granted exclusive rights to sell cameras, film and photographic materials on the Expo '67 site in Montreal, as well as souvenir slides around the world. This venture helped develop a solid financial base for Angreen's ambitions to expand further.
By 1971, Angreen had acquired two major film production entities, Pathé-Humphries labs and recording studios in Toronto (1968) and Associated Screen News Industries of Montreal (1969).
Having also acquired three retail camera stores in Montreal in 1968 from Centre Photographique de Montréal, and expanded to a chain of l25 stores across Canada under the name Astral Photo, the Greenbergs were by now ready to take their company public. A public offering was initiated, and on July 26th, Astral Communications Limited was launched.
Astral Belleview Pathé Limited was formed through company mergers, to specialize in distributing television and theatrical films and series. The Greenbergs were the company's largest shareholders, and Harold Greenberg became its President and CEO. Astral also got into film production, and in the ensuing years Harold would be executive producer of several Canadian feature films, including The Neptune Factor (1973), The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Seizure (1974), City on Fire (1978), Death Ship (1979), and Tulips (1980).
In the next stage of diversification, Astral founded a videocassette duplication facility named Pathé Video, in Toronto. In the same year, Harold Greenberg brought more success to Astral as co-executive producer of the hit box-office movie Porky's.
In a ground-breaking move that was to have a profound effect on the future of Astral, in March the CRTC announced the awarding of Canada's first Pay-TV licences. First Choice Canadian Communications and Superchannel were granted national licences, and several regional licences were also granted.
This was a crucial year in the evolution of Astral, from being a major producer of film and television product to being a leading player in the broadcasting field. The pay services First Choice and Superchannel launched on February 1st, but by the end of the year, Astral had acquired control of both First Choice and its French-language counterpart, Premier Choix , it being a condition of CRTC approval that Astral would get out of the production business altogether, to avoid any possibility of conflicts of interest.
Harold Greenberg succeeded Don MacPherson as President of First Choice, a position he would retain until shortly before his death in 1995. During the year, after it had become apparent that all the pay services were sustaining substantial losses, various mergers resulted in First Choice gaining exclusivity for Eastern Canada, while Superchannel would serve the rest of the country from Winnipeg to British Columbia. By the end of the year, both channels had moved from general interest programming to concentrate almost exclusively on movies.
While out of the production business, Astral stayed very much involved in the hardware side of film and television, and in 1984 they went into wholesale distribution of videocassettes with the founding of Ciné-Maison Bellevue.
This year saw the inauguration of AstralTech, a new video production centre.
Although out of the production business, Astral remained totally supportive of the Canadian film production industry. To honour Harold Greenberg, Astral created The Harold Greenberg FUND, the capital letters standing for Foundation to Underwrite New Drama, to support the production of Canadian programming. Over the following twenty years, the FUND would invest over $50,000,000 in Canadian productions.
Astral diversified further by launching Astral Media Outdoors, a company that would offer multiple advertising opportunities through such media as posters, billboards, transit shelters and street furniture.
Two new specialty channels in which Astral had ownership positions were launched: The Family Channel and Canal Famille.
After having served for six years as Chairman of the CRTC, André Bureau left the Commission. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that André would become President and CEO of Astral Communications Inc. He would later become President of Astral Broadcasting Group, and subsequently Chairman of Astral Media Inc.
Astral launched a new national pay-tv specialty channel, Viewer's Choice, which would carry major feature films, sporting events, concerts and other special events.
Astral launched two new speciality channels, Moviepix (later to be called simply Mpix), a channel presenting classic films, and Canal D, a French documentary channel.
In December, Harold Greenberg stepped down as Chairman and CEO, and was succeeded by his brother Ian.
President Ian Greenberg announced Astral's intention to concentrate its endeavours on "pure play media" and its outdoor advertising business.
On July 1st, Harold Greenberg died of cancer after a long illness.
When a new pay-tv French channel, Canal Indigo, was launched, Astral held a 40% interest through its Viewer's Choice subsidiary.
In September, the CRTC approved the licensing of Teletoon, a new specialty channel to broadcast predominantly animated programming for children in both English and French. The Family Channel, jointly owned by Astral and WIC Western International Communications, held a controlling interest in Teletoon and its French counterpart, Télétoon.
This was the year when Astral made its first move into the conventional broadcasting field, with the acquisition of a 25% share in Radiomutuel Inc., owners of a group of radio stations in the province of Quebec. The company also became sole owners of two French-language specialty channels, Premier Choix and Canal Famille.
The year also saw the launch of the Comedy Network, a new specialty channel, in which Astral had a 14.95% ownership position. The other shareholders were the Just For Laughs Festival, Baton Broadcasting and Shaw Communications.
In July, Astral inaugurated the AstralTech 2D Animation Centre in Montreal. The facility offered producers of animated television programs a wide range of services previously performed in the Orient.
The two Teletoon specialty channels were launched on October 17th.
On February 7th, the Greenberg family was saddened by the loss of Harvey, another of the four brothers who had together founded Angreen Photo Inc. back in 1961.
Astral formed a joint venture with Radiomutuel to create TV Plus Media, to sell advertising and offer joint marketing opportunities to specialty television channels.
On February 19, Astral's stock was included in both the TSE 300 Composite Index and the TSE 200 Index.
In July, Astral applied to the CRTC for approval for them to acquire control of Radiomutuel Inc. The application was heard on September 3rd, but no decision was forthcoming before the end of the year.
On January 12th the CRTC approved Astral's application to acquire ownership of Radiomutuel Inc. Astral thereby obtained control of eight French-language FM radio stations and three French-language AM radio stations in Quebec, the FM radio network Radio Énergie, consisting of the eight Radiomutuel FM stations, and two French-language specialty channels, Canal Vie and Canal Z.
In addition, Astral gained a 50% interest in MusiquePlus Inc., licensee of the specialty services MusiquePlus and Musimax (the other 50% being held by CHUM Limited), Les Entreprises RadioMédia Inc, licensee of AM radio station CKAC Montreal and the AM radio network RadioMédia (50% owned by Télémédia Radio Inc), and RadioMédia Inc., licensee of radio station CHRC-AM Quebec City (50% owned by Télémédia Radio Inc.)
The deal also brought Astral a number of non-broadcasting assets in the fields of outdoor advertising and broadcast sales.
Also in January, Astral launched three new specialty channels, Ztélé, which it owned outright, and Historia and Séries+, which were jointly owned with Alliance Atlantis
On February 25th, after having been known as Astral Communications for nearly 29 years, the company changed its name to Astral Media.
Michel Arpin, after terms with the CRTC and the Civitas Corporation, had been with Radiomutuel for eighteen years when the company was acquired by Astral. At that time, Michel became Senior Regulatory and Governmental Affairs Advisor to the Astral Broadcasting Group.
Astral added three more Quebec radio stations to its broadcasting ownerships with the acquisition of CFOM-FM Levis, CFEI-FM St. Hyacinthe and CHRD Drummondville.
In the television field, the company acquired from Corus the balance of the shares in the Family Channel that it did not already own, and thereby increased its ownership in the Teletoon/Télétoon French and English specialty channels to 40%. In turn, Astral sold to Corus its interest in the Comedy Network.
The specialty channel Canal Famille was relaunched as VRAK-TV, targeted at the 3 - 14 years age group.
On April 19th, with the prior concurrence of the Competitions Bureau, the CRTC approved an application by Astral Media Inc to acquire effective control of three companies, 3903206 Canada Inc., Télémédia Radio Atlantic Inc., and Radiomedia Inc., and with them ownership of seventeen radio stations in Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The approval was conditional on Astral finding a buyer for CFOM-FM, Levis, PQ.
Astral began offering Subscription-Video-On-Demand on The Movie Network on Demand and Super Écran sur demande.
On January 21st, the CRTC announced conditional approval of a proposal for Astral Media Radio Inc. and Corus Entertainment Inc. to exchange ownership of a number of radio stations in the province of Quebec. The conditions related primarily related to the required scheduling of specific percentages of certain categories of program content.
As a result of the deal, Astral acquired radio stations CFVM-FM Amqui, CJDM-FM Drummondville, CJOI-FM Rimouski, CIKI-FM Rimouski and its transmitter CIKI-FM-2 Sainte-Marguerite-Marie and CFZZ-FM Saint-Jean-Iberville.
Corus acquired CKAC-AM Montreal, CHRC-AM Quebec, CJRC-AM Gatineau, CKRS-AM Saguenay, CHLKN-AM Trois-Rivieres, CHLT-AM Sherbrooke, CKTS-AM Sherbrooke and CFOM-FM Levis. In addition, Corus acquired ownership of digital radio stations CKAC-DR-2 Montreal and CJRC-DR-2 Gatineau, the Montreal Canadiens hockey radio network and the Montreal Alouettes football radio network.
May 1st saw Astral launching The Movie Network HD, offering high-definition programming 24 hours a day. They also launched Cinépop, a French language channel offering an exclusive service of classic movies.
On May 5th, Michel Arpin left Astral to return to the CRTC as Vice-Chairman, Broadcasting.
In June, the CRTC granted a licence for a terrestrial radio subscription service to a partnership of CHUM (80.1%) and Astral (19.9%). The service was initially planned to serve major cities in Ontario, Quebec and B.C., and to expand to other areas during the course of the licence term. Two satellite radio services, Sirius and XM, were licensed at the same time, and achieved some success. The CHUM/Astral project never got going (see Digital Audio Broadcasting), largely on economic grounds.
In October, Astral was awarded four new licences for French language digital specialty channels, Télé-Rêve, Canal Chez Moi, Canal Justice and Televitesse.
Starting January 9th, Astral's Movie Network's Hi-Definition channel began offering movie classics in high definition, as well as offering an HD option for their other specialty channels, Canal D, Canal Vie, Historia, Séries+, ZTélé and Super Écran. Its VRAK-TV licence was amended to permit programming to expand to target young people up to 17 years of age.
While by this time Astral had grown its radio ownerships to 30 stations, the company still had an appetite for further growth. In pursuit of this objective, Astral made a serious attempt in the summer of 2006 to acquire the assets of the CHUM group. Owner Allan Waters had died the previous December, and six months later the Waters family announced that they were prepared to entertain offers for the property. Astral made an offer, but were outbid by CTVglobemedia. Despite this set-back, it remained clear that Astral were still very interested in further expansion.
Astral increased their ownership position in both English and French Teletoon channels to 50%.
The year marked Ian Greenberg's tenth year as President of Astral, and the 20th year of the highly successful Harold Greenberg Fund.
Astral Media and the Harold Greenberg Fund announced in February the launching of the Reel Support project, a new venture in association with Fujifilm that would provide a new source of funding for the Canadian film and television industry.
On February 23, 2007, there was little surprise when Astral announced that it had signed a letter of intent and was in the process of negotiating with Standard Radio to acquire all the firm's assets. Standard accepted Astral's offer, the deal received CRTC approval on September 28, and the transaction was completed on October 29 of the same year. The deal, which made Astral the largest radio station owner in Canada, with 82 stations in 29 markets, involved the acquisition by the company of 52 radio stations in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Albert and B.C., including CFRB-AM in Toronto and CJAD-AM in Montreal, plus two small television stations in Dawson Creek, Yukon, and Terrace B.C.
It is worthy of note that the Tangible Benefits Package that accompanied Astral's acquisition of Standard included the sum of $140,000 to be paid to the Canadian Communications Foundation in seven anual instalments of $20,000, in support of its work on its website on the History of Canadian Broadcasting.
In June, Astral acquired from CHUM Limited their 50% holdings in the MusiquePlus and MusiMax specialty channels, and thereby assumed 100% ownership of each channel.
On October 1st, Astral launched yet another English language specialty channel, Teletoon Retro.
In November, in a fitting tribute to his success in leading the growth of Astral to its pre-eminent position in the broadcasting industry, Ian Greenberg received the Ted Rogers and Velma Rogers Graham Award for his unique contributions to the Canadian broadcasting system.
On May 30th, Astral Media Radio Inc learned that they had been unsuccessful in a competitive application for a licence for a new FM station in Vancouver.
In August, Astral Media Radio Inc. received CRTC approval for licences for two new English language FM radio stations, to serve Ottawa and Gatineau. However, following petitions from concerned parties, the decision was referred back to the CRTC on November 20th via an Order-in-Council which required the Commission to rehear the original applications, and to "... fully consider and explain its approach to evaluating the needs of official-language minority communities, and how it applies in this case".
A new hearing was scheduled for March 31st 2009.
During the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' annual convention in Ottawa, on Monday November 3rd, Harold Greenberg (posthumously) and Ian Greenberg were inducted into the CAB Hall of Fame. On Tuesday, November 4th, the 40th Anniversary of the formation of the CRTC was marked by a video presentation. Following the presentation, Astral Media Chairman André Bureau - himself a former Chairman of the Commission - made a speech saluting the Commission and praising the work it had done over the previous four decades.
New CRTC hearings were held on March 31st and June 12th regarding Astral's application for a new English language radio station to serve Ottawa and the Gatineau, and on August 11th the Commission reaffirmed its decision to grant Astral the licence for which they had applied. The new station would operate at 99.7 MHz.
Astral's new Ottawa/Gatineau station, CJOT-FM, launched on May 27th.
On September 26th, the CRTC denied an application by Astral to acquire ownership of Shore Media, licensee of CHHR-FM Vancouver, considering that the application contravened the Commission's Licence Trafficking Policy.
However, on December 19th, Astral announced that it had received authorization from the CRTC to acquire Shore Media Group Inc., the radio licence holder for CHHR-FM 104.3 (Shore FM), broadcasting in Vancouver, British Columbia. The acquisition was set to be completed in early 2012.
"We are very proud to have Shore FM join the Astral family and reinforce our multiplatform presence in Vancouver and British Columbia," said Astral Radio president Jacques Parisien.
On March 16th, the CTV Network's parent company, BCE, announced that, subject to CRTC and Competitions Bureau approval, it had agreed to acquire Astral Media for a price of 3.38 billion dollars. BCE chief executive George Cope was quoted as saying: "We think bringing together Astral and BCE puts both organizations in a stronger competitive position."
On May 25th, Astral Media Inc. announced that the Québec Superior Court had approved the previously announced acquisition of all of the issued and outstanding shares of Astral by BCE Inc. pursuant to a plan of arrangement under section 192 of the Canada Business Corporations Act. The Québec Superior Court declared that the Arrangement was fair to shareholders of Astral.
On July 10th, the CRTC announced that it would hold a hearing commencing on 10 September 2012 at 9:00 a.m. at the Palais de Congrés de Montréal, 1001 place Jean-Paul-Riopelle, Montréal, Quebec, to consider the BCE Inc application for authority to change the effective control of Astral's broadcasting undertakings so that it was exercised by BCE Inc.
Immediately following the announcement, a group of broadcasting entities led by Quebecor Inc. Cogeco Inc. and Bragg Communications launched a "Say No To Bell" media campaign, which produced nearly ten thousand comments from various sources.
On October 18th, the industry was very surprised when the CRTC announced that it was denying the application by BCE Inc. (BCE), on behalf of Astral Media inc. (Astral), for authority to change the effective control of Astral's broadcasting undertakings. The Commission said it was "...not convinced that the transaction would provide significant and unequivocal benefits to the Canadian broadcasting system and to Canadians sufficient to outweigh the concerns related to competition, ownership concentration in television and radio, vertical integration and the exercise of market power."
On the same day, Bell Media issued a press release expressing shock at the CRTC's decision, and announced it would be requesting that the federal Cabinet intervene in the CRTC's decision to reject Bell's acquisition of Astral Media. Bell said it was "appalled that the CRTC would come to a decision that so negatively impact(ed) Canadian consumers and the national broadcast industry, contravene(d) its own policy and (was) tainted by behind-the-scenes lobbying by Bell's cable rivals."
However, on November 19th Astral and Bell announced that they had amended their Arrangement Agreement and submitted a new proposal to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for approval of Bell's acquisition of Montréal-based Astral. Bell also announced that it had formally withdrawn its request to the federal Cabinet for a policy direction to the CRTC.
"We heard Canadians and the CRTC loud and clear - they want assurance that Astral joining with Bell Media will directly benefit consumers and creators. We're ready to deliver more choice for listeners and viewers, more opportunity for content creators, and more competition for the broadcasting industry," said George Cope, Bell's President and CEO. "Bell and Astral are happy to move forward with a new proposal that benefits all Canadians, in both official languages, in communities large and small across the nation, with new ideas, new funding and new choices."
As a result of the amendments made to the terms of the original Arrangement Agreement between Astral and Bell, the outside date for the closing of the transaction was extended to June 1, 2013, with each of Astral and Bell having a further right to postpone it to July 31, 2013.
On March 4th, BCE Inc. (Bell) received Competition Bureau clearance for a revised transaction proposal that would join Astral Media with Bell Media. The transaction also required approval by the CRTC.
Bell said that the Competition Bureau's announcement was the result of an agreement under which Bell would sell a number of Astral TV services. Bell Media would retain 8 Astral TV services: the French-language SuperÉcran, CinéPop, Canal Vie, Canal D, VRAK TV, and Z Télé, and English-language services The Movie Network, which included HBO Canada, and TMN Encore.
"This positive news from the Competition Bureau is a major step forward in uniting Astral and Bell Media and delivering on our promise to grow investment and competition in Canadian broadcasting," said George Cope, President and CEO of BCE Inc. and Bell Canada. "This decision preserves the tremendous value the transaction represents to consumers, the Canadian media community, and Astral and Bell shareholders."
On March 6th, the CRTC announced that on May 6th the Commission would hold a hearing to consider renewed applications by Astral Media and Bell Media for authority to change the effective control of Astral's broadcasting undertakings to BCE Inc.
Subject to Commission approval, the closing of the proposed transaction would be preceded by multi-step corporate reorganizations within both BCE and Astral for tax planning purposes and to facilitate the closing and the divestiture of certain assets.
To that end, the Commission would also hear applications by Astral on behalf of BCE to effect a multi-step corporate reorganization involving the transfer of assets of certain broadcasting undertakings to new entities to be established and controlled by BCE.
Finally, the Commission would hear an application by Astral to effect a corporate reorganization within Astral involving the transfer of the assets of certain of its broadcasting undertakings to new entities to be established and controlled by Astral.
As part of its application, Astral submitted that in order to ensure compliance with the Commission's policies and address any concerns regarding market concentration, BCE would divest itself of 11 television undertakings: six in the French-language (Teletoon Rétro, Disney Junior, MusiquePlus, MusiMax, Historia and Séries+), four in the English-language (Teletoon Retro, Cartoon Network, Disney XD and Family Channel, including the related Disney Junior multiplex), and one in both languages (Teletoon).
On May 6th the CRTC began what would be a week-long hearing of BCE's revised application to acquire Astral. There having been no decision announced by June 1st, it was announced that by mutual agreement the term for the deal to be closed had been extended to July 31st.
On June 27, 2013, the CRTC approved the application by Astral Media Inc. to sell its pay and specialty television channels, conventional television stations and radio stations to BCE Inc, subject to certain conditions. It also approved the applications by Astral on behalf of BCE for multi-step reorganizations to give effect to the main application if approved.
It was a condition of the approval that BCE must divest itself of ownership of several television and radio programming undertakings. Pending eventual sale, the Commission directed BCE Inc. to transfer the interim management and control of those entities to a trustee pursuant to the terms of the voting trust agreement addressed in a letter of approval issued 27 June 2013, by no later than 29 July 2013.
The programming undertakings required to be sold were CHHR-FM Vancouver, CKZZ-FM Vancouver, CISL Vancouver, CFQX-FM Selkirk, CHBM-FM Toronto, CKQB-FM Ottawa-Gatineau and CJOT-FM Ottawa-Gatineau, CKCE-FM Calgary, CHIQ-FM Winnipeg and CFXJ-FM Toronto.
The specialty services required to be sold were:
- Disney Junior
- Télétoon Rétro
- Cartoon Network
- Disney XD
- Teletoon Retro
- The Family Channel
The deal closed on June 5, 2014. Astral Media Inc. was dissolved in July 2014 as a result of Astral's assets being officially acquired by Bell. The stations listed below were those owned by Astral at the time of the closure.
Astral Media Inc. Radio Stations
(Click on the call letters to view individual station histories)
|St. Catharines, ON|
|Fort St. John, BC|
|Prince Rupert, BC|
|St. Catharines, ON|
|Grand Falls, NB|
|Dawson Creek, BC|
|Osoyoos / Oliver, BC|
|Fort St. John, BC|
|Fort Nelson, BC|
|Shawinigan Falls, QC|
|St. Catharines, ON|
|Salmon Arm, BC|