Two sides of 4Q coin in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — TV Azteca saw some sunshine, while its giant rival Televisa saw almost none, as the respective No. 2 and No. 1 national broadcasters gave sharply contrasting fourth-quarter 2008 results Thursday.

Noting primetime share gains and a beneficial change in tax provisions, Azteca boasted a 365% leap in net profit to 863 million pesos ($62.5 million), while Televisa fell nearly flat, earning $206 million, blaming last year’s 21% devaluation of the peso, most of it in the fourth quarter, for inflating its dollar-dominated debt. The dollar was at 13.815 pesos at the end of December.

However, there were a few silver linings to Televisa’s clouds. It beat analysts’ predictions of a 7% to 11% decline in profit, managing a slight 0.3% up tick. The report also featured an unexpected 17% jump in operating income to $1.05 billion, bolstered by continued pay TV growth.

Azteca prexy Mario San Roman pointed to telenovelas and the web’s “Idol”-wannabe “La Academia — ultima generacion” (The Academy — The Last Generation), which won a 41% audience share in primetime this quarter.

“We were able to preserve the solid top line level reported in the prior year and multiply net profit by four in the quarter, despite the difficult economic environment,” said San Roman.

Televisa and Azteca usually see closer to a 70/30 split in audience share — with the bigger web reporting a 72.3% sign-on-to-sign-off overall audience share this quarter.

Azteca’s net sales only rose slightly to $211 million, although its U.S. net Azteca America reported a 47% rise in sales to $14 million by comparison to fourth quarter 2007.

The company also reported a cut of $57.8 million in provision for taxes, due primarily to an extraordinary charge in the deferred income tax a year ago.

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