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Ups and downs in Canadian media

Astral posts strong results; CanWest takes a dip

TORONTO — Two of the biggest players in the Canadian media scene reported contrasting financials for the third quarter ended May 31.

Robust Montreal-based Astral Media continues to post healthy results, this time with a bottom line uptick of 8% to C$36 million ($34.4 million) on revenue up 8% to $162 million.

Winnipeg-based CanWest Global Communications, meanwhile, saw its fiscal bottom line dip to just $7.6 million from $12.4 million the previous year on revenues up 7% to $706 million.

At Astral, the pay TV, radio and outdoor advertising company’s revenue increase was helped by a 13% surge in ad revenue in its TV division, and a 9% increase in subscriber revenue for its premium pay TV channels, which are grouped under the Movie Network banner and carry programming from HBO and Showtime.

In April, Astral acquired Standard Radio for $1.03 billion. Astral helmer Ian Greenburg told analysts during a conference call Thursday that the transaction has not slaked the deep-pocketed company’s long-reported thirst for acquisitions.

CanWest’s numbers were helped by cost cutting at the Canadian publishing division and a boffo perf from its Australian TV interests. The company’s Canadian TV revenue slumped 3% to $174 million, but a 7% cut in costs helped offset the dip.

Prexy and CEO Leonard Asper noted that last year’s fiscals included income from non-recurring items, some of them income tax related.

During the quarter, CanWest sold its New Zealand media interests to HT Media for $293 million, but decided to hang on to its stake in Network Ten Australia after a desirable suitor failed to step up to the plate.

Also, shareholders of the company’s income trust spin-off voted to bring it back into the parent company. Last fall the Canadian government taxed income trusts, partially offsetting their benefits and making them a less attractive for investors.

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