Alliance purchase moves forward

The CRTC is getting closer to approving CanWest MediaWorks' $2.6-billion takeover of Alliance Atlantis Communications, following a corporate re-shuffling that stands to expedite the process.

The public broadcast regulator has allowed Alliance Atlantis Communications to split and form a separate, numbered company to hold properties that are subject to CRTC approval – essentially its cable channels.

The shuffling clears the way for CanWest to take over the unregulated portion of AAC – primarily the entertainment wing that makes the CSI franchise and other shows – though the feds will still review CanWest’s application to buy the regulated properties. Public hearings into the deal are to take place in the coming months.

The CRTC has also approved a trustee, James Macdonald, to oversee the regulated company until the takeover is complete. Macdonald has had high-profile positions with CanWest Global and BCE Media.

‘We are very pleased that these approvals have been obtained which satisfy certain conditions pertaining to the acquisition,’ said Leonard Asper, president and CEO of CanWest. ‘This is another important step in the transaction process.’

CanWest and Goldman Sachs & Co., its partners in the takeover, cleared a review by the federal Competition Bureau in April, but need final approval from the CRTC.

The takeover deal has also been the subject of some legal squabbling. The trustees of the Movie Distribution Income Fund, part owner of AAC’s distribution wing, will see AAC in Ontario Superior Court on June 15 for a hearing. MDIF says it has not been provided with any information on the deal beyond what’s already public, and needs to assess how it will affect the business. It wants the court to order Alliance to turn over all documents and information related to the sale.

CanWest Global Communications also announced on Friday that it’s buying back the newspaper income trust it sold off two years ago. CanWest sold units in the CanWest MediaWorks Income Fund in October 2005 at $10 per share and offered to buy them back at $9 each. The trust holds a 26% ownership stake in the CanWest group of newspapers, which includes The Montreal Gazette, The Ottawa Citizen, The Vancouver Sun and Province, The Calgary Herald and The Windsor Star.

This story first appeared in Playback Daily.