As Shaw Communications Inc. gives up on its dream of operating a wireless network, attention once again shifts to whether the cable company is going to snap up Corus Entertainment Inc. - the last remaining independent media company.
The wireless deal, which will also see Shaw sell its Ontario-based Mountain Cablevision Ltd. to Rogers Communications Inc., will put about $700-million in Shaw's pocket. And with the Shaw family already owning a controlling stake in Corus, analysts anticipate the Calgary-based company could snap up the rest to help it better compete with content-heavy rivals such as BCE Inc. and Rogers.
Shaw also bought out Rogers' minority interest in the television channel TVtropolis.
"While these transactions do not directly involve Corus Entertainment, we expect improved visibility around Shaw's wireless strategy, a stronger balance sheet and an increase in media exposure with full ownership of TVtropolis to put a potential Shaw-Corus combination back in the spotlight," RBC analyst Drew McReynolds wrote in a morning note to clients.
Shaw created Corus in the late 1990s, when it seemed regulators were going to force content providers to separate their media assets from the telecommunications assets. That didn't happen, and BCE and Rogers bulked up just as Shaw was slimming down.
Analysts estimate Shaw could squeeze about $50-million to $100-million in overhead cost savings by bringing the two companies back together. And with content costs rising, another way cable operators are trying to control their expenses is by owning the television networks that own and resell content – that's what's behind BCE Inc.'s $3-billion bid for Astral Media Inc.
Shaw began rebuilding its media empire in 2010, when it bought Canada's second-largest television network out of bankruptcy protection after Canwest Global Communications folded and left Global looking for a new owner. Corus presents another opportunity to load up on content – its television assets include specialty channels YTV, Treehouse and the Oprah Winfrey Network Canada.
Corus reported its first quarter earnings late Monday. Its profit came in at $52-million, compared to $50-million a year ago. Revenues were lower at $226-million, from $236-million a year ago as its television segment saw decreased advertising on its speciality channels.
"Corus has delivered a solid first quarter, achieving double‐digit segment profit growth in radio, strong women's advertising sales, subscriber gains on Pay television and continued success in controlling costs, which was partially offset by soft results in our kids business," said chief executive officer John Cassaday. "Looking ahead, we expect our strong ratings momentum on Oprah Winfrey Network, ABC Spark and Nickelodeon will contribute to revenue growth as the fiscal year progresses."