Astral Media Eying Potential CanWest Takeover

by: Streetwise Blog

By Andrew Willis

Astral Media Inc. (OTC:AAIAF) makes no secret of its interest in acquiring the specialty television arm of CanWest Global Communications Corp. (OTC:CWGVF) if the lucrative, 18-channel network comes up for sale.

While rivals downplay their desire to pick up pieces of troubled CanWest, Astral chief executive officer Ian Greenberg said in a recent conference call with analysts that if the division was to “become available, it certainly is of interest to us. They certainly strategically fit into our plans.”

While Astral, which owns 20 specialty TV channels and 82 radio stations, would take a run at CanWest specialty offerings that include History Television and Showcase, sources say Mr. Greenberg woudl steer clear of CanWest’s money-losing conventional TV network, Global.

Astral contemplates selling shares and borrowing from banks to pay for the CanWest specialty TV unit, Mr. Greenberg said during his latest quarterly earnings call. CanWest bought most of the division in 2007 as part of its $2.1 billion takeover of Alliance Atlantis Communications. Astral’s CEO said any deal would be funded with “some combination of equity and debt. And that's the kind of modeling we do continuously and we will continue to do.”

Mr. Greenberg could not predict when, if ever, these channels will come up for sale, and said: “I think there will have to be negotiations with the bondholders and Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) in order for those assets to become available.”

Astral has advantages over potential bids from broadcasting rivals, with a strong balance sheet and room to expand its programming without running up against regulatory restrictions.

In contrast, Corus Entertainment Inc. (CJR) CEO John Cassaday has said in the past that his company would only be interested in a handful of CanWest channels. CTVglobemedia, which owns the Globe and Mail, would likely face regulatory resistance to expanding its TV holdings.

And while Rogers Communications Inc. (NYSE:RCI) would certainly kick tires, sources at the company confirm the obvious: The priority for CEO Nadir Mohamed is expanding wireless and cable operations.