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Corus eyes aggressive TV expansion in Quebec

John Cassaday, president & CEO of Corus Entertainment.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Corus Entertainment Inc. wants to aggressively expand its television offerings in Quebec, saying Tuesday that its purchase of several speciality channels in the province is only the first step in its plan.

BCE Inc. and Astral Media Inc. are shedding assets to try and convince regulators to approve their $3-billion merger. Corus said Monday it would spend $400-million to buy speciality channels such as Teletoon and Historia, which only became available because its rivals are trying reduce their market share to appease regulators.

"These aren't fixer uppers," chief executive officer John Cassaday said in a conference call Tuesday morning. "The only reason they are available is because they are forced divestitures. It's not a renovation job, there's an opportunity for us to move onto Main Street and we're happy to assume stewardship of successful properties."

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The deal will see Corus acquire from Bell the remaining 50-per-cent interest in Teletoon it didn't already own, acquire the French-language Historia and Series+ from Bell and Shaw Media, acquire from Shaw the 49 per cent of ABC Spark that it doesn't already own in exchange for Corus' 20 per cent stake in the Food Network and cash, and acquire two Ottawa radio stations from Bell.

Mr. Cassaday said the deal presented an opportunity for Corus to instantly transform itself into a major player in the province – it goes from being a non-player to being the No. 2 speciality operator in Quebec. It will also open an office in Montreal, which Mr. Cassaday said would help the company take advantage of "profitable new market opportunities for us and allows us to diversity revenue."

"We're excited about the size of the opportunity," Mr. Cassaday said. "The Quebec market has seen less audience fragmentation than in English Canada, and has generally higher ratings … the market is highly concentrated, and we'll look to launch new services. There's no cooking channel, there's no home and gardening channel, there's no young women's channel."

The deals are contingent on Bell's Astral deal receiving approval from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

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