Astral quarterly profit up sharply
Media firm's net earnings rise 14%
Astral Media Inc. says its profit grew sharply in the fourth quarter, a period when the Montreal-based television, radio and billboard company was working towards being taken over by BCE Inc.
Astral's net earnings for the quarter rose to $54.3 million, up 14 per cent from $47 million a year earlier.
Its earnings grew to 96 cents from 85 cents per share.
Revenue grew at a slower pace, rising by two per cent to $251.8 million from $247.6 million.
Astral noted that the CRTC has blocked its takeover by BCE and it has asked the federal cabinet to intervene.
Astral added there can be no assurance of the outcome of BCE's efforts and said it will continue as a profitable independent company.
"I am very pleased with the solid performance delivered by our business units in fiscal 2012, particularly with the strong finish in the fourth quarter, consolidating the company's 16th consecutive year of profitable growth," said Astral CEO and president Ian Greenberg.
"We remain fully committed to maintain the same financial discipline that allowed the company to grow in Fiscal 2012 and to continue to invest in content and new products in order to offer the highest possible quality of products and services."
Astral has 80 radio stations
Besides being Canada's largest pay and specialty TV broadcaster, Astral is also the country's largest radio company with more than 80 radio stations in 50 Canadian markets and its third-largest outdoor advertising company.
Astral's pay TV services include The Movie Network and French-language Super Ecran, which have almost two million subscribers. It also has lengthy deals with U.S. cable channels HBO and Showtime for exclusive programming.
BCE, which owns the CTV television network, sees Astral as a way to increase digital content for personal computers and tablets, mobile devices like smartphones as well as traditional TV screens.
Bell has extended the deadline for its takeover offer for Astral to Dec. 16 in hopes the deal can still win regulatory approval.
The agreement had been expected to close this fall, but the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission rejected the takeover, saying it wasn't in the best interests of Canadians.
Bell has asked the federal cabinet to intervene, but Ottawa has suggested there's little appetite to do so. Astral has said that either it or Bell can again extend the expiry date for the $3.4-billion deal to Jan. 15, 2013.
The CRTC said if it had allowed the deal, BCE would have controlled almost 45 per cent of the English TV viewership and almost 35 per cent of the French.
Bell disagrees, saying Bell and Astral combined would have an English-language TV market share of 33.5 per cent and the combined companies would have a 24.4 per cent stake in the French-language TV market, both within the rules.
The discrepancy arises because Bell includes U.S. competitors in the calculations, while the CRTC does not.