Revealed: Canada’s most profitable specialty channels

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No surprise here: Shaw Media has Canada’s most profitable specialty channels.

But it’s a surprise which niche channel is best at turning revenue into earnings, before taxes, as revealed Wednesday by the CRTC’s financial summaries for pay TV, pay-per-view, VOD and specialty channels, for the years 2007 to 2011.

Taking the pre-tax margin as a measure of profitability between industry peers – or essentially net profits before taxes, divided by total revenue – the CRTC data tables revealed Shaw Media’s D.I.Y. Network stood out among its industry peers with 2011 pre-tax earnings of $6.2 million, on overall revenue of $9.8 million.

That amounts to a sector-leading pre-tax margin of 63.3% last year.

That performance was followed by Shaw Media’s Showcase Action indicating to the CRTC pre-tax earnings of $10.2 million in 2011, on overall revenue of $16.7 million, for a yawning pre-tax margin of 61%.

The same 61% profit margin attached itself to Shaw Media’s National Geographic Channel, as it reported to the CRTC pre-tax earnings of $12.1 million, on total revenue of $19.9 million.

Close behind was Telelatino, owned and operated by Corus Entertainment, which posted a pre-tax margin of 59.4%, coming from pre-tax earnings of just over $12 million, on overall revenue of $20.3 million.

And Bell Media’s MuchMoreRetro specialty had a modest $412,046 in pre-tax earnings on overall revenue of $744,860.

But that amounts to an impressive pre-tax margin of 55.3%.

Canadian broadcast profit margins tend to fluctuate, based on ad and subscriber fee revenues.

But the domestic broadcast sector mostly returning to profitability last year after a 2008-09 downturn has the CRTC reporting that Bell Media’s Fashion Television channel had a pre-tax margin of 54.3% last year, as it reported modest pre-tax earnings of $2.49 million on overall revenue of $4.6 million.

And Astral Media’s MoviePix channel with a pre-tax margin of 54% as it posted pre-tax earnings of $13.8 million, on overall revenue of $25.6 million, according to the CRTC.

A bit further down the league table is YTV, which posted a pre-tax profit of $49.6 million, on total revenue of $93 million, or a giant pre-tax margin of 53.3%.

Also in the kids space, Astral Media’s Family Channel had a pre-tax margin of 50.2%, as it reported pre-tax earnings of $31.7 million, on total revenue of $63.2 million, while perennial performer Teletoon channel recorded pre-tax profits of $41.6 million, on revenue of $89.3 million, for a pre-tax margin of 46.6%.

Encore Avenue, a movie channel operated by Corus Entertainment, reported pre-tax earnings of $10.4 million, against overall revenue of $20.5 million, for a pre-tax margin of 50.9%.

The higher a pre-tax margin, the better a broadcaster is at converting revenue into earnings, before taxes.

And yet some Canadian speciality channels are marked out by their consistency.

Take TSN, which recorded pre-tax profits of $58.3 million in 2011, on total revenue of $289.4 million, for a pre-tax margin of 20.2%, according to the CRTC data.

That compares to a year-earlier pre-tax profit for the Bell Media sports channel of $42.3 million on revenue of $267 million, or a pre-tax margin of 15.8%.

Rival Sportsnet, operated by Rogers Media, had a similar pre-tax margin of 14.4%, due to higher year-over-year programming costs during a period of expansion, as the sports channel posted pre-tax earnings of $31.3 million in 2011, on overall revenue of $217.8 million.

Other specialty channels, more vulnerable to ad spend fluctuations by major marketers, have seen their pre-tax margins yo-yo in recent years.

W Network last year had pre-tax earnings of $15 million on overall revenue of $87 million, for a pre-tax margin of 17.2%.

That put the 2011 earnings well down on the $46.6 million in pre-tax profits W posted in 2010, on overall revenue of $87.7 million, which amounted to a pre-tax margin of 53.2%.

On the kids channel front, Treehouse TV, also owned by Corus Entertainment, saw its pre-tax earnings in 2011 come to $6.6 million on total revenue of $14.5 million, for an impressive pre-tax margin of 45.7%.

Last year’s financial picture was roughly in line with Treehouse TV’s 2010 performance.

Also posting a high profit-to-revenue ratio is Astral Media’s VRAK-TV service, which recorded pre-tax earnings in 2011 at $11.6 million, on total revenue of $27.8 million, for a pre-tax margin of 41.8%.

Other highly profitable specialty services include Bell Media’s The Comedy Network, with a pre-tax margin of 42.9% last year as the chuckle channel recorded pre-tax earnings of $24.2 million on overall revenue of $56.6 million.

Specialty channels finding themselves in the red last year include Vision TV, where higher programming and production expenses had it recording a pre-tax loss of $976,000 in 2011, on revenue of $26 million, a swing from a year-earlier pre-tax profit of $7.75 million on overall revenue of $25.9 million.

The biggest loser in 2011, according to the CRTC data, is Bell Media’s Bravo! channel, which swung from a pre-tax profit of $10 million in 2010, on revenue of $42.5 million, for a pre-tax margin of 23.7%, to a pre-tax loss of $32 million on overall revenue of $38.5 million last year, or a pre-tax margin of -83.3%, due to a one-time adjustment.

On the premium pay TV network front, The Movie Network, owned by Astral Media, saw pre-tax earnings in 2011 at $26.1 million, on overall revenue of $138.7 million.

That gives TMN a pre-tax margin of 19.4%.

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