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Astral’s revs, net earnings sparkle

Digital set-top boxes, DTH services bring wider auds

MONTREAL — Canadian entertainment company Astral Communications reported significant growth in both revenues and net earnings for the past year, thanks mainly to boffo performance by its specialty TV services.

For the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, Montreal-based Astral posted an increase in net earnings of 18%, to a record C$14.9 million ($10 million), or 67¢ per share, compared with $8.5 million, or 62¢ per share, a year earlier. There was an average of 14.9 million shares outstanding at the end of the year, compared with 13.6 million the previous year. Revenues from operations grew to $252 million, up 16% from $218 million the year before.

Astral acquired 100% of Quebec specialty TV and radio company Radiomutuel on July 7, but Astral prexy and CEO Ian Greenberg said Astral will continue to account for this investment on an equity accounting basis until it receives approval from the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission.

The federal broadcast regulator is expected to announce its decision regarding the takeover sometime this month.

“The increasing importance of the broadcasting group’s contributions to Astral’s bottom line underscores the appropriateness of the company’s clear strategic focus on growing the media side of our business internally and through acquisitions,” said Greenberg.

Astral execs noted that there is growing demand for all of the company’s specialty, pay and pay-per-view services in the Great White North and that they expect even wider audiences as the cable companies introduce more digital set-top boxes and the DTH services increase their market share.

Astral chairman Andre Bureau said that, in addition to subscriber revenue, advertising is beginning to play a larger role in the company’s income as a result of the networks Teletoon and Canal D, which both carry advertising.

Further, the two new services, Canal Histoire and Canal Fiction, which go on-air in January, will carry ads. The two new French-language channels are co-owned, 50-50, with Alliance Atlantis Communications of Toronto.

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