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Azteca ratings buoy earnings by 42%

Results in line with analysts' expectations for web

Record ratings at Mexico’s No. 2 net TV Azteca boosted net earnings 42% to $27 million on revenue up 4% to $164 million in the first quarter compared to the same time last year.

Results, released after market close on Wednesday, were in line with analysts’ expectations for the web, owned by media and retail mogul Carlos Salinas Pliego.

Record ratings were spurred by hit telenovela “Amor en custodia.” Primetime ratings share hit highs of 43% compared to 38% during first quarter 2005, Inverlat Scotiabank analyst Ana Gabriela Ocejo wrote in a report.

Rising revenue at U.S. subsidiary Azteca America, bolstered by good ratings for singing competish “La Academia USA,” also fueled growth. Azteca America sold $12 million in spots during the first quarter, up 60% compared to $7 million last year.

Production costs were up 12% to $81 million compared to $72 million in 2005 due to higher production costs associated with “La Academia USA” and Winter Olympics coverage.

TV Azteca CEO Mario San Roman said higher costs were justified in going after a larger share of the U.S. Hispanic market.

TV Azteca mopped up further upfront sales through the end of March, totaling $470 million, up 6% compared to 2005.

Firm’s shares rose 1.93% in Mexico to close at 6.85 pesos (61 cents) on Wednesday. Net’s stock is down 2% this year compared to an average 15% rise among Mexican stocks.

TV Azteca pulled its stock from the NYSE last year. Salinas Pliego is facing charges from U.S. securities regulators over a debt deal where he allegedly earned $109 million.

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