Broadcaster

Astral growth "significant"

7/23/2003

MONTREAL - With no struggling digi-nets to drag on earnings, and with radio providing a real boost, Astral Media reported strong third quarter results today.

Revenues, EBITDA, net earnings and cash flow all rose for the quarter ended May 31st, 2003 by 21%, 36%, 43% and 40%, respectively.

Consolidated revenues totalled $353.8 million for the first nine months of the 2003 fiscal year, compared to $298.1 million last year - and $126.5 million for the third quarter, up 21% from the same quarter last year.

EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) increased 39% to $92.0 million for the first nine months and was up 36% to $36.3 million in the third quarter compared to Q3 2002.

"This increase reflects the strong performance of Astral's television and radio groups over the course of the first nine months of fiscal 2003," said today's press release. "Cash flow from operations rose 37% for the first nine months of the year totalling $63.3 million compared to $46.3 million for the same period last year. For the third quarter, cash flow from operations was up 40% to $24.7 million, compared to $17.6 million for the same quarter last year."

For the first nine months of fiscal 2003, net earnings increased 49% over last year, rising to $50.1 million, excluding a non-recurring after-tax gain of $13.0 million recorded last fiscal year on the sale of the company's holding in The Comedy Network. Net earnings in the third quarter of fiscal '03 increased by 43% to $20.2 million compared to Q3 2002.

On the television side, Astral president and CEO Ian Greenberg said that continued pay television growth and some solid ratings and revenue now being turned in by three French specialty channels launched in 2000 (100%-owned Z, plus 50% ownership - with Alliance Atlantis - in both Historia and Series+) have been at the root of the growth.

"We've been saying for quite some time that as digital growth continues to increase, so will pay TV," he told analysts during the company's quarterly conference call today, "and that is the case because we are maintaining about 55% penetration on the cable digital side."

So far this fiscal year, Greenberg told analysts, subscribers to Super Écran and The Movie Network have grown by 160,000, or 13%, from the same period last year to a total of 1.33 million.

"On the specialty side, our revenues are up in the quarter 38%," he added, "which I suggest speaks to our focused sales strategy and the excellent ratings of all our networks."

Astral's TV brands, other than the ones mentioned are: Canal D, Canal Indigo, Canal Vie, Family, Moviepix, Musimax (50%, with Chum), Musique Plus (50% - Chum), Tele-Annonces, Teletoon (40% - Corus and Cinar) and Viewer's Choice (50.1% - Rogers and CTV).

On the radio side of the ledger, Greenberg added, "we're delighted from a number of points of view. First of all, organically we grew 13% on the Radio Energie network. Second, that the integration of Telemedia has gone extremely well." He also pointed out that radio margins in the quarter were 34%, above its earlier predictions of 30%, so far.

Greenberg said both of the company's different radio networks, Radio Energie (18-34 demo) and Rock Détente (34-54 demo), are leaders in their target markets. There are nine Energie FM stations and seven Rock Détente FM stations, all in Quebec. Astral also owns six Atlantic Canada FM stations and two AM.

"We're looking for good solid growth in radio for 04," Greenberg added.

For the full release, go to www.astral.com.

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