Radio boosts Astral's first-quarter earnings

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TORONTO -- A jump in radio station earnings led Canadian broadcaster Astral Media on Monday to report an increase in first-quarter profits.

Montreal-based Astral saw earnings for the three months ending Nov. 30 jump 15% to CAN$37.5 million ($36.8 million), compared with earnings of CAN$32.6 million in 2007.

Revenue rose 20% to CAN$198.7 million ($195.7 million), against a year-earlier CAN$165.1 million. The sales line fell short of analyst estimates of CAN$202.1 million ($198.6 million), according to a Bloomberg survey.

The results included a one-month contribution from Standard Radio, a stable of about 50 radio stations that Astral acquired last year for CAN$1.1 billion. Overall radio revenue surged 60% from CAN$10.5 million in 2007 to CAN$17.2 million ($16.9 million) during the latest quarter.

The Standard deal, which closed Oct. 29, makes Astral the largest radio station operator in Canada.

On the TV side, Astral saw overall revenue climb 7% to CAN$129.5 million ($127.3 million), which included a 12% rise in advertising revenue and a 6% jump in subscriber revenue for the broadcaster's cable and premium pay TV channels.

Astral president and CEO Ian Greenberg said premium pay TV channel the Movie Network, saw no drop in subscribers after the recent end to a successful run of the HBO series "The Sopranos."

Greenberg also told analysts during a conference call that it was too early to judge whether Astral TV channels might benefit in viewership as U.S. networks increasingly scheduled reruns during the ongoing WGA strike.

"On the pay TV side, there's no difference in programming. We haven't lost any programming," he said, adding that the Movie Network depended in large part on Hollywood movies, where the pipeline was not expected to be disrupted before 2009.

"I hope that's not how we grow, by a strike announcement. But we will have our normal marketing plans. And we expect, strike or no strike, to grow our pay TV base," Greenberg told analysts.
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