Bell closes deal to buy Outfront Media’s Canadian business, must sell 669 ad spaces

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The Competition Bureau says Bell Media must sell nearly 700 advertising displays in Ontario and Quebec as a condition of its $410-million acquisition of outdoor advertising company Outfront Media Inc.’s Canadian operations.

The watchdog’s ruling Monday comes as the BCE Inc. subsidiary announced the deal’s closure. First announced last October, Bell had agreed to take over 9,325 advertising displays owned by Outfront Media’s Canadian arm, which has since been rebranded Outedge Media Canada.

The bureau said its investigation concluded the merger was “likely to substantially lessen competition” in Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke and the Greater Montreal and Toronto areas.

“Outedge and Bell vigorously competed with one another in these markets where there are a limited number of rival suppliers of outdoor advertising services,” the bureau said in a statement.

“The loss of that rivalry would have resulted in higher prices and fewer options for customers. Other companies would face significant barriers to enter or expand into these markets.”

The bureau’s conditional green light means Bell must sell off 669 advertising displays, including certain digital displays, across the five markets. It said that requirement will ensure a purchaser has a sufficient diversity of assets to compete with Bell.

Bell Media president Sean Cohan said the closure of the acquisition marks a significant milestone for Bell and solidifies its position as the leading supplier of out-of-home advertising space.

“Our now expanded national inventory of both digital and out-of-home assets will drive even better, industry-leading results for our advertising partners,” he said in a news release.

Bell Media, which owns television and radio stations as well as digital and out-of-home media assets, bought Astral Media in 2013 for $3.2 billion, gaining one of Canada’s largest out-of-home advertising brands.

It has around 45,000 advertising displays that are part of the Astral brand.

Before the competition watchdog imposed its conditions for the latest deal, experts had estimated the move would increase Bell’s share of the out-of-home advertising market in Canada from around 20 to 35 per cent.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2024.

Companies in this story: (TSX:BCE)

Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press

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