Astral posts big Q1

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TORONTO -- Thwarted a day earlier in its hopes of launching a bid for rival Alliance Atlantis Communications, Quebec radio and TV broadcaster Astral Media Inc. on Thursday said it remains on the acquisitions trail.

"Astral has its own path laid out for itself to grow organically and through acquisitions," Ian Greenberg, president and CEO of Montreal-based Astral, told analysts after the broadcaster posted a doubling of its first-quarter earnings.

Astral had earlier expressed interest in Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis and its 13 cable channels, but was forced out of the running this week when rival CanWest Global Communications Corp. and partner Goldman Sachs & Co. offered CAN$2.3 billion ($1.96 billion) to buy Alliance Atlantis (HR 1/11).

Astral was beat out last year by Bell Globemedia in a bid to purchase Toronto-based broadcaster Chum Ltd. and its stable of radio and TV stations for CAN$1.7 billion ($1.45 billion).

Greenberg told analysts that he was less disappointed the second time around as the Alliance Atlantis deal included a half-stake in the popular "CSI" franchise and a 51% stake in a movie distribution business, both of which he did not covet.

"It was a matter of buying a company with two assets that quite frankly we're not familiar with at all," he told analysts. "Alliance Atlantis is quite different from Chum, in every way."
Also Thursday, Astral recorded earnings of $32.6 million for the three months through Nov. 30, up 9% from a profit of CAN$15.2 million in 2005.

Revenue jumped 7% to CAN$165 million ($141 million), compared with a year-earlier CAN$154.5 million.

Higher subscriber and advertising revenues saw total sales at its TV division grow to CAN$120.8 million ($103 million) from CAN$110.3 million in the same period in 2005.

Revenues from its radio stations rose slightly to CAN$32 million ($27.3 million), from CAN$30.4 million in 2005, while its billboard advertising business saw revenues fall to

CAN$13.1 million ($11.1 million), from a year-earlier CAN$13.8 million.
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