Canuck’s Astral sings with Corus

First quarter showed a 22% jump in net earnings

TORONTO — Canuck media companies Corus Entertainment and Astral Media posted boffo numbers on Thursday.

The National Hockey League lockout and a boffo programming mix helped Astral Media to a first quarter, ended Nov. 30, that showed a 22% jump in net earnings to C$25.2 million ($21 million), on revenue up 9% to $116.6 million and growth across all business units.

Montreal-based Astral Media has holdings in specialty and pay-per-view TV, radio and outdoor advertising.

TV revenues were up 9% to $84 million, radio was up 5% to $22.5 million and outdoor advertising jumped 26% to $9.7 million. The number of subscribers for its TV division, which includes The Movie Network and Viewer’s Choice, jumped 67,000 to 1.5 million, and ad revenues on its specialty channels, including Musique Plus and Family, enjoyed 28% growth during the quarter.

Auds are up thanks to male viewers deserting CBC, hockey’s traditional home.

The company reported a good response for its subscription video on demand service (SVOD), which cabler Cogeco has offered using a “don’t pay” model. “The hope has been that this would curtail churn,” said Astral prexy-CEO Ian Greenberg, “and we’ve seen that; customers love it.”

The company has $66.6 million in the bank and is interested in making acquisitions, but targets are difficult to come by. In December, the company bought back shares worth $3.8 million.

For the first quarter ended Nov. 30, net income for Toronto-based Corus ballooned to $24.2 million, more than five times the bottom line of $4.7 million posted a year ago.

Revenue dipped slightly, from $154 million to $150.4 million, attributed to reduced Beyblade merchandise sales and a lower U.S. greenback. As a result, revenues at the company’s content division, which includes Nelvana, a producer and distributor of children’s programming and products, dropped to $15.7 million from $25.6 million.

TV advertising was up 6% in the quarter and radio advertising up 8%, and the consolidated profit for the two jumped 9% to $52 million.

TV revenue, led by the Ontario and Quebec markets, increased 5% to $82 million, and radio revenue was up 8% to $54.5 million.

Corus Entertainment is a content spinoff of cabler Shaw Communications, which Wednesday posted a downturn in profit for its first quarter, also ended Nov. 30. The Shaw family of Calgary controls both companies.

Profit at Calgary-based Shaw, which also has a satellite and a high-speed Internet service division, was $15.6 million, down from $16.6 million for the same time a year ago, the result of the drop in the greenback.

Currency fluctuation cost the company $18 million in the quarter, offsetting gains in operating activities and customer growth. Revenue at Shaw climbed 7% in the three months to $447 million.