Astral Media profits rise despite difficult climate

Numbers benefit from industrywide accounting changes

TORONTO — Boffo quarterlies in bad times posted by pay and specialty TV powerhouse Astral Media were goosed even further by the company’s sale last fall of its interest in specialty channel the Comedy Network, according to figures released Wednesday.

Net earnings from continuing operations for the fiscal first quarter ended Nov. 30 were C$22.8 million ($14.1 million), a huge leap from $2.6 million for a year earlier.

This year’s results include a one-time pre-tax gain of $10.5 million ($8.1 million after tax) on the October sale of Astral’s 15% interest in the Comedy Network.

Revenues for the quarter were $62.3 million, up 21% from $51.5 million posted a year earlier. The numbers also benefited from industrywide accounting changes initiated on Sept. 1.

Without the one-time gain and accounting change, net earnings from continuing operations would have been $6.1 million. “We still would have been up 45%,” Astral VP of finance Claude Gagnon told Daily Variety. “And that’s because of the growth of our business.”

Up to challenge

“These results were obtained in a challenging environment,” Astral prexy-CEO Ian Greenberg said in a statement. “Despite difficult economic conditions, we continue to be in line with our growth targets, a solid indication that our pure play media strategy is solidly anchored and our revenue mix is well balanced.”

Montreal-based company also announced a two-for-one stock split, subject to regulatory and shareholder approval; it’s the first in Astral’s history. Split will take the number of shares outstanding from 24.4 million to 48.8 million.

Astral Media is Canada’s largest operator of English and French specialty, pay and pay-per-view TV services.

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