Astral-Standard deal may be good news for media buying

Last year, Astral Media flirted with the possibility of buying CHUM. When that didn't work out, Astral considered getting in on the fight for Alliance Atlantis. This week, Astral is finalizing details on a $1.3 billion buy of Standard Radio - which would make them the biggest in Canada's audio airwaves.

Montreal-based Astral Media is reportedly offering $1.3 billion to buy Standard Radio, which would create Canada’s largest radio broadcast company, with 81 stations across the country. But there’s no word yet on what Internet properties may or may not be part of the deal. Standard’s Internet radio arm, Iceberg Radio, is part of the ongoing discussions.

Sunni Boot, president/CEO of Toronto’s ZenithOptimedia, tells MiC the news of Astral’s offer for Standard came as no surprise after last year’s big deals, which saw CTVglobemedia eat up CHUM, and CanWest buy Alliance Atlantis. ‘I knew as soon as the CTVglobemedia thing happened that that was just the start of choosing the dance partners,’ says Boot. ‘Nobody wants to be left on the dance floor, do they?’

The news of Astral’s intention to buy Standard, says Boot, is welcome. ‘It’s a good move for them, in the sense that they lack English properties, and this will round out their portfolio.’

Astral currently owns 29 radio stations in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. It also has pay-TV assets including the Movie Network, a specialty TV lineup that includes Teletoon and Canal Vie, as well as outdoor media. Toronto HQ’d Standard Radio, a private company, is currently Canada’s largest private broadcaster, with 52 radio stations.

Standard’s other holdings include ad sales firm IMS, radio content provider Sound Source Networks, two BC TV stations and a 40% share of Sirius Canada satellite radio. Some media have reported Astral’s deal would not include Standard’s stake in Sirius, and online music store Puretracks may be left out of the buy.

Alain Bergeron, Astral Media VP brand management and corporate communications, tells MiC Iceberg Radio may or may not be included in any deal, and it could go either way. ‘The deal has not been finalized,’ says Bergeron. ‘There are a lot of things that are still under discussion, and the Internet portion of it has not been finalized yet.’

While another big convergence deal might seem like more bad news for media agencies who are still scurrying to send all their archives off for Competition Bureau (CTVglobemedia/CHUM pricing impact) scrutiny, in this case, the pedigree of the emerging national radio platform seems to ameliorate the loss of a another competitor in the market.

‘It’s not bad news,’ says Boot, ‘in the sense that these are strong properties that could benefit from the focus of a single owner. Both Standard and Astral are very, very good media owners. They have excellent properties, and they market their properties well, and they enjoy a solid reputation of integrity in our industry. In a lot of ways, it’s a bit of a meeting of the minds. If I step back, I’m a media buyer and of course I want more media sellers. But this is a relatively complimentary situation.’