Astral posts higher Q2 earnings

Montreal media co.'s revenue rose 24% to $33.6 million

TORONTO -- An improving Canadian ad market and an enlarged pay TV subscriber base helped broadcaster Astral Media post higher second quarter earnings and revenue on Thursday.

Montreal-based Astral saw earnings rise 24% to $33.6 million during the three months to Feb. 28, from $27.1 million in 2009, on revenue rising 4% to $218.3 million, against a year-earlier $209.3 million.

Astral, with its subscriber-driven cable and pay TV channels, has fared better than industry rivals as the economic downturn hammered the Canadian radio and TV ad markets.

Astral Media CEO Ian Greenberg told analysts during a morning call that, with the Canadian economy back on the mend, "rebounding" TV ad and subscription revenue had helped offset a slight decline in radio revenue.

During the latest frame, Astral saw subscription-related TV revenue rise 7% to $107 million, as the broadcaster added 43,000 more pay TV subscribers, year on year, to cross the 1.8 million customer base.

TV ad revenue rose 6% to $22.5 million, while radio ad revenue dropped 2% to $74 million.

Greenberg told analysts the Canadian radio ad market was set to grow in the second-half of 2010, after a dismal last 12 months, as the automotive category especially improved.

Astral in the last year launched HBO Canada as a multiplex channel for subscribers of its The Movie Network pay TV service.

The broadcaster's higher TV advertising revenue was partially offset by lower merchandising and Internet-related ad sales.

And Astral's outdoor advertising business saw revenue rise 23% to $15 million.