CanWest bets on reality TV during strike



TORONTO -- Canadian broadcaster CanWest Global Communications on Thursday said it hopes that airing popular U.S. reality series mid-season will offset the unfolding fallout from the Hollywood writers strike.

CanWest, which operates two national TV networks, confirmed it "will be affected" by the ongoing writers/studio standoff.

Winnipeg, Manitoba-based CanWest added that the impact "should be reduced by the launch of new reality-based shows in the new year," including the latest CBS "Survivor" installment and NBC's "The Celebrity Apprentice." It also hopes to see the strike's impact softened by CBS airing "Big Brother" three nights a week.

The Canadian broadcaster also is looking to offset the negative impact on viewership from increased reruns during the WGA strike by airing new episodes of such popular Fox series as "House," "Prison Break," "The Simpsons" and "Bones."

CanWest on Thursday posted a lower fiscal first-quarter profit because of higher interest costs, restructuring expenses and foreign currency swap losses.

Earnings for the three months ending Nov. 30 came to CAN$40.7 million ($40.2 million), compared with a profit of CAN$66.4 million in 2007. The profit drop came despite overall revenue rising 8% to CAN$868 million ($857.7 million).

Also on Thursday, Canadian cable operator Cogeco posted an overall quarterly loss after it took a hit from its investment in failing Quebec TV network Television Quatre Saisons. The loss came despite higher cable earnings.

Cogeco signaled it would seek a buyer for its controlling stake in the TQS network and exit the free, over-the-air TV business.

Montreal-based Cogeco recorded an asset-impairment charge of CAN$18.5 million ($18.3 million) related to its 60% stake in TQS, the private French-language network undergoing a financial restructuring under court protection from creditors.

"With regards to the court order involving TQS, after careful thought, the time has come to end our participation in the general-interest television sector," Cogeco CEO Louis Audet said.

Cogeco's cable business, Cogeco Cable, reported fiscal first-quarter earnings of CAN$20.4 million ($20.1 million) on revenue of CAN$251.8 million ($249 million). That compared with earnings of CAN$12.5 million on revenue of CAN$222 million in the year-ago period.

Cogeco added 83,024 revenue-generating units during the latest quarter: 12,997 basic cable customers, 16,253 digital customers, 29,100 high-speed Internet clients and 26,674 telephony customers.