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Astral Media Inc. CEO Ian Greenberg. (SHAUN BEST/SHAUN BEST/Reuters)
Astral Media Inc. CEO Ian Greenberg. (SHAUN BEST/SHAUN BEST/Reuters)

Astral goes mobile with HBO app Add to ...

HBO is coming to Canadian mobile devices.

Astral Media Inc. confirmed Wednesday that it will launch its HBO GO app in the fall, which will allow anyone with a mobile device and a subscription to watch popular shows such as Game of Thrones without turning on their televisions.

The television and cable company said earlier this year it would offer the service to help it compete against services such as Netflix.

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Cable and satellite providers already offer services which allow their customers to watch content on password protected sites, but Astral would be able to offer the service to those who don’t have television packages in their homes.

“It will be on the computer, the television of course, iPads and mobile devices,” said Astral chief executive officer Ian Greenberg during the company’s quarterly conference call. “That was our goal, and that is what we will be going out with.”

The service is already available in the United States, offering unfettered access to the network’s popular television franchises such as the wildly popular Game of Thrones and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Scotia Capital analyst Paul Steep ran through the numbers earlier this year and concluded that HBO GO should serve as a “significant competitive weapon” for Astral and Corus, which also owns rights.

“As the Canadian pay-TV market continues to evolve the number of subscribers signing up for premium service has begun to slow and remain below levels reported in the U.S. market,” Mr. Steep noted. “HBO GO offers both Corus and Astral a valuable product helping to offset the impact of maturing Pay TV growth and mitigate some of the threat associated with the entry of Netflix into Canada.”

Astral posted its 62nd-consecutive quarter of profit, in what will likely be one of its last quarterly reports as a standalone company.

The Montreal-based television and radio company was acquired by BCE Inc. last month in a deal worth $3.2-billion, although the deal is not expected to close until September.

When asked about the effect of the deal on the company’s employees, Mr. Greenberg said Astral chose Bell as a buyer because it would give Astral’s workers the best chance of keeping their jobs.

“Those discussions haven’t taken place,” he said when asked about cuts. “But this was not an acquisition done to cut up jobs. If there are some that will suffer, that is part of life. But this is not an exercise of cutting jobs, it’s an exercise of growing Astral.”

The company said revenue increased slightly in the second quarter from the same quarter last year to $233.5-million, while profit grew 10 per cent to $38.2-million.

Astral saw advertising revenue increase by 4 per cent in its television division to $140-million. Subscriber revenue for its specialty channels increased by 1 per cent, largely due to an increase in the number of subscribers for its Movie Network and Super Ecran offerings.

The radio division saw revenue slip 3 per cent to $74-million, which Astral attributed to a rebranding of several Alberta stations in a bid to recapture market share.

The company said 56 per cent of its annual revenues come from advertising, which “tends to follow seasonal patterns, with the second quarter being the lowest in the fiscal year.”

The company said that while the market was “challenging” in the first half of the year, it is seeing stronger bookings for the rest of 2012 from national advertisers.

“There’s no question for the third quarter we are feeling much more confident based on bookings and discussions we have had with advertisers,” he said. “After a relatively flat quarter, we see much more confidence and are predicting reasonable increases for the year. We are more bullish and confident about Q3 and Q4 as we sit here today.”

Astral owns (or has a stake in) 24 television services, including the Movie Network/HBO Canada, Super Ecran, Teletoon and Disney Junior. It also Canada’s largest radio broadcaster, with 84 stations in eight provinces. Its “out-of-home” advertising division, which does outdoor ads, has some 9,500 ads on streets in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

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