CanWest posts strong Q4, full-year figs

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TORONTO -- Asset sales helped Canadian broadcaster CanWest Global Communications post increased fourth-quarter and full-year earnings Friday.

Winnipeg, Manitoba-based CanWest Global saw profits for the three months ending Aug. 31 climb to CAN$197.4 million ($188 million), compared with earnings of CAN$154.8 million ($165.6 million) in 2006.

During the latest quarter, CanWest Global recorded a CAN$252 million ($240 million) gain from the sale of its New Zealand and Canadian radio operations. That compares to a prior-year gain of CAN$164 million on the sale of TV3 Ireland.

Fourth-quarter revenue came to CAN$678.6 million ($645 million), compared to CAN$610.4 million in 2006. Publishing revenue during the latest quarter stood at CAN$305.2 million ($290.5 million), against CAN$294 million in 2006.

On the broadcast front, Canadian TV revenue came in at CAN$127 million ($121 million), down 2% from a year-earlier CAN$130 million during a typically slow seasonal period. The Canadian TV division also posted an EBITDA loss of CAN$10.2 million ($9.7 million), compared with a CAN$22 million loss in 2006.

The greatest revenue in the latest quarter came from Australia, where Network TEN contributed CAN$205.3 million ($195.3 million) in revenue, up 31% from CAN$156.6 million in 2006.

For the full year, CanWest Global posted earnings of CAN$279.3 million ($253 million) on revenue of CAN$2.86 billion ($2.72 billion), compared with earnings of CAN$178.6 million on revenue of CAN$2.68 billion in 2006.

CanWest was especially bullish on its Canadian TV operations, where, in recent years ,it has played catch-up with ratings-leader CTV.

"An aggressive approach to improving and refreshing the primetime schedule on both Global Television and the newly launched E! channels appears to be paying off as the new schedules on both networks have captured a larger share of audience and a larger number of the top ten programs across the country," the broadcaster said.

Global Television has received its biggest ratings bounces from popular drama like Fox's "House" and "Prison Break" and NBC "Heroes."

"We are currently in a dead heat with our major conventional competitor in Canada with respect to audience share," Leonard Asper told financial analysts during a conference call, underlining gains in the key 18-49 demo.

Asper argued that newly launched E! Canada was "showing solid early returns," and highlighted a digital revamp that is converting newsrooms nationwide to high definition.

The release of its latest financial results comes as CanWest Global seeks regulatory approval to purchase rival Alliance Atlantis Communications for CAN$2.3 billion ($2.23 billion), with Goldman Sachs and Co. as its equity partner.
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