Astral earnings soar 156% on sub revs

PPV company follows plan, makes money

TORONTO — Subscriber revenues helped make for a boffo year in the face of a soft ad market at Astral Media, which on Tuesday posted a 156% boost in net earnings.

The Montreal-based specialty, pay and pay-per-view TV, radio and billboard advertising company unveiled earnings for the year ended Aug. 31 of C$34.7 million ($22.1 million). The bottom line includes a one-time gain of $3.6 million from the recovery of future income taxes due to the implementation of new tax rules and a $3.1 million gain from discontinued operations. Net earnings from continuing operations for the year were $18.9 million, up a hefty 128% from fiscal 2000.

“We reaped the rewards of our focused pure play media strategy, exceeding our financial targets while continuing to build on our role as a key player in the Canadian media,” said Astral president and CEO Ian Greenberg.

The company posted revenues of $219.7 million, up 18% from a year ago. Subscriber fees account for about two-thirds of the company’s revenues, a strategy that has paid off given the weak ad market and healthy subscriber base of the past year. The spread of DTH and the rollout of digital cable has brought the subscriber base for Astral’s pay TV services, the Movie Network and Super Ecran, to 1.1 million as of year-end, a 23% increase from the previous year.

During the year, Astral acquired the 50% of the Family Channel that it did not already own, and increased its interest in the kids’ channel Teletoon to 40%. The company also raised $127.3 million in the course of two equity issues, leaving the company with a debt-free balance sheet.

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