2005 starts with cavalcade of cableco announcementsBy all accounts, Canada’s cable industry is in growth mode, with two major cablecos seeing greater than 100% increases in their net income during recent quarters. Shaw Communications Inc., and Cogeco Cable Inc. both issued earnings statements less than two weeks into the new year, while Rogers Communications Inc., and Vidéotron ltée issued - subscriber growth figures. Calgary’s Shaw grew its net income to $75.7 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2006 – a three-month period which ended November 30, 2005 – up from $44.7 million in the first quarter of the previous fiscal year. While digital telephony and high-speed Internet growth led the charge in subscriber addition numbers, the firm’s basic cable customer base grew by 29,429 during the quarter, while digital cable added 28,296 new customers. Shaw’s direct-to-home satellite television operator Star Choice also contributed with a 10,199 gain in users. "Both of our divisions are contributing to early success in fiscal 2006 through focused strategies related to growth and business development," CEO Jim Shaw said in a media release. For its first quarter of the 2006 fiscal year, Montreal-based Cogeco said it added 41% more basic cable subscribers than in the same quarter for the 2005 fiscal year: 10,900 new basic service customers were added, compared with 7,700 a year earlier. The firm also said it saw strong growth in its digital cable subscriber base, with more than 21,000 new customers coming on board during the three months, and had also extended its digital telephony service to five municipalities in Ontario and three in Quebec. All this subscriber growth, coupled with rigorous cost controls during the rollout of its digital telephony service and a reduction in amortization expense, allowed the firm to more than double its net income year-over-year, from $3.8 million in Q1 2005 to $9 million in the most recent quarter. Like Shaw, Cogeco’s Q1 2006 actually ended November 30, 2005. Meanwhile, Montreal cable provider Vidéotron released year-end customer numbers for the 12 months ending December 31, 2005. The cableco, which is wholly owned by Quebecor Inc., added more than 50,000 net new customers across all its offerings during the year, counting more than 140,000 new customers for its illico digital cable service alone. Finally, Rogers Communications operating unit issued preliminary results for the fourth quarter of its 2005 fiscal year, which ended December 31. The Toronto-headquartered firm’s cable operations, Rogers Cable Inc., wooed more than 73,000 net new subscribers over to its digital cable offering, but just 8,000 new basic cable subscribers signed up in the quarter. Networks issue new year earnings news as wellCanadian television networks rang in the new year with earnings announcements as well. In the first quarter of its 2006 fiscal year, Winnipeg-headquartered CanWest Global Communications Corp. saw a 14% slide in consolidated net earnings year-over-year. The company posted $30 million in net earnings across all operations in the most recent quarter, down from $35 million in the same quarter last year, with consolidated revenue also taking a 1% dip, falling from $873 million to $860 million. Revenues from conventional television were soft during the three-month period, according to a media release, but profits at specialty channels were up from last year. During the quarter, which ended November 30, 2005, the company spun off its newspaper and online assets in an income trust offering, using the $400 million earned from the transaction to pay down some of its outstanding debt. CHUM Ltd. fared somewhat better during the first quarter of 2006 (again ending November 30, 2005): the Toronto media network saw revenue grow by 16% year-over-year, with the firm taking in $186.7 million during the period. That top-line growth helped fuel a 13% gain in net earnings, which came in at $24.2 million. The company predicts a "challenging environment" in the coming year for its radio properties, which posted weak performance during the first quarter, but noted that both conventional and specialty stations should continue to improve. Specialty broadcasters start 2006 rightFinally, specialty channel providers posted gains during the first quarter of the 2005 fiscal year. Consolidated revenues at Montreal’s Astral Media Inc. were up 10% over those in the first quarter of 2005, weighing in $153.8 million. The firm’s pay TV and specialty channels led the charge, accounting for $109.6 million worth of those revenues, with Astral’s radio and outdoor advertising divisions making up $30.4 and $14.8 million of the remainder respectively. Corus Entertainment Inc. of Toronto got the year off to a similar start with an 8% gain in consolidated revenues, bringing in $195 million worth of business during the first quarter of the 2006 fiscal year. As was the case with Astral, television operations were driving gains with a $108.8 million contribution to overall revenue, up from $98.5 million in Q1 2005 for a 15% gain. Radio revenues were up more modestly with a 10% gain, while revenue at Corus’ content division slid from $18.9 million to $15.7 million. Telus invests $15M in satellite head-endVancouver’s Telus Corp. recently announced plans for a $15-million satellite head-end in BC’s Fraser Valley area, a facility that will spearhead the company’s move to offer its Telus TV service in the province. By this summer, the head-end will provide more than 200 video and audio channels to Telus TV subscribers, with that number growing to more than 300 by years-end. The service is already available in Calgary and Edmonton, thanks to a similar content distribution centre in the latter city. Late last year, the CRTC denied Telus’ request to amend its license so that Telus TV could automatically carry any part 2 eligible satellite service, distant Canadian signal, or audio programming service carried by its competitors, but did grant Telus leeway to offer satellite signals to its broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDUs) through its existing broadband network, rather than requiring them to use a satellite relay distribution undertaking (SRDU) such as Cancom (Broadcasting Decision 2005-570). The commission also granted Telus permission to substitute the US 4+1 major network signals it’s authorized to distribute with the signal of a different affiliate from the same network, as long as it is in the same timezone and received from a licensed SRDU (CCR, Jan. 12/06). Telesat announces plans for Nimiq 4BCE Inc.’s Telesat Canada subsidiary announced plans this week for Nimiq 4, the latest in the satellite operators’ series of digital television satellites. Nimiq 4 will carry a variety of signals for lead customer Bell ExpressVu, including high-definition (HD) television transmissions, specialty channels, and foreign-language services, and will feature 32 Ku-band and eight Ka-band high-power transponders. Construction of the satellite will be contracted to European firm EADS Astrium, and deployment will be handled by International Launch Services. Nimiq 4 should be in orbit sometime in 2008. TMN launches HD classics channelThe Movie Network has rolled out MHD, a movie channel that will simulcast classic movies and other programming from sister channels Mpix and Mescape in high definition. The new commercial-free offering will be available free of charge to customers of Rogers Cable’s digital TV service. MHD is the second HD channel for Astral-owned The Movie Network: in May last year it launched The Movie Network HD.