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Astral says revenue up 7% in first quarter

Specialty television producer Astral Media Inc. reported Thursday a first-quarter profit of $53.3-million as revenue rose seven per cent.

The Montreal-based company's earnings amounted to 94 cents per share, meeting Bay Street expectations, although its revenue at $267.1-million was slightly below the consensus estimate of $270-million.

The company's net income was down from a year earlier, when Astral and other media companies benefitted from a regulatory fee reversal and Ontario tax adjustments, but up if those onetime items were excluded.

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Net income in the first quarter of fiscal 2010 was $64.64-million or $1.14 per share before adjustments or $48.2-million (86 cents per share) after adjustments.

"Towards the end of fiscal 2010, we saw encouraging signs of recovery in the Canadian advertising markets," president and CEO Ian Greenberg said in a statement.

"Clearly, that momentum carried through to our first quarter and allowed us to record another solid quarter of growth. All of our business units benefited from this momentum, with our television and out-of-home divisions leading the way."

Astral's revenues were up from $250.7 million in the same period a year earlier as advertising and subscriber-related revenue rose 16 per cent and three per cent respectively.

Astral operates more than 100 of the country's most popular pay and specialty television, radio, out-of-home advertising and digital media properties.

Subscribers for Astral's pay TV services, such as The Movie Network and French-language Super Ecran, grew by 89,000 to almost 1.9 million in its latest quarter, a five per cent increase year-over-year.

Astral also recently signed a deal to stream 83 of its radio stations to mobile devices across Canada under a three-year deal with UBC Media Group.

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Last month, Astral also announced a share buyback program of up to about 2.7 million of its Class A shares and up to 137,903 of its Class B shares, saying it's in the best economic interests of the company and its shareholders.

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