Shaw Communications Inc. posted a better-than-expected quarter to start the year, helped along by a particularly strong performance by its television division that it built from the ashes of the CanWest Global Communications Corp. empire.
The Calgary-based company reported a $235-million profit for the quarter, up from $202-million in the same quarter last year. While cable services make up the bulk of the company's revenue at $809-million, its media division pulled in $319-million.
The company's television assets include Global Television and 19 specialty channels, including Food Network Canada and History Television. It doesn't dwell on the media side when reporting its earnings, as analysts tend to focus on the larger cable operations.
But here are four things we learned from Wednesday's earnings report.
Advertising: While most Canadian media companies have stressed that the advertising outlook is almost impossible to gauge, Shaw did hint that things may have stabilized slightly in the last three months.
The media division's operating profit before amortization was up 9 per cent to $131-million, and it credited "improved advertising and subscriber revenues partially reduced by increased programming costs."
Hockey, shmockey: Hockey, shmockey: Global isn't a big player when it comes to sports, and isn't a hockey broadcaster so it didn't feel the effects of the lockout the same way as rivals such as Rogers Communications Inc. or BCE Inc. If anything, executives suggested the lockout helped free up some advertising money that would have been directed to hockey broadcasts but instead found their way to the company's speciality channels.
"We were the beneficiary of some of it, not a significant amount, so in the kind of $3 million to $5 million range perhaps over the period," said Paul Robertson, vice-president of broadcasting and president of Shaw Media. Paul W. Robertson Group Vice President of Broadcasting and President of Shaw Media
Programming matters: The first quarter is typically strong for television companies, because new shows debut and advertisers open their wallets to get in early. Picking the right lineup can help push profits. The company singled out new entries Elementary, Vegas and Chicago Fire but said standbys such as Survivor, NCIS, NCIS LA, Hawaii 5-0, Bones and Glee performed well (it had 6 of the Top 10 shows in Canada and 7 of the Top 20 shows for Adults 18-49).
"Often, if you set a good pace from a programming standpoint in Q1, you can continue it on," Mr. Robertson said. "And given that the shows - we still got four shows that we picked up this year that are possibly going to be renewed next year, so we're still in the money in terms of the shows we bought."
On the go: Shaw unveiled a new mobile product that allows its users to access some content from mobile devices. It started with a focus on HBO Canada and the Movie Network, and now the plans to expand its offerings.
"We've launched Movie Central, HBO Go, which is really the major product. We have NFL Sunday Ticket. The season's over, but that was also a very successful launch," he said. "We're on NBA League Pass now, which is proving to be very successful as well, and we've got a number of new Go applications in the hopper, which we will likely launch in the next little while, focused on kids, focused on a variety of other programming service. So we've created the store, we're now stocking the shelves. But it's proving to be very successful from a customer point of view."