Last week, The CRTC published their annual channel-by-channel financial summaries for the various pay-TV, pay-per-view, video-on-demand and specialty services. Remember all that boo-hooing from the broadcast suits about how 2009 was the worst year ever and that the recession was crippling the Canadian TV industry? Well, if there is a broken business model in Canadian TV, it sure isn’t over on the specialty or pay-TV tier. Several channels posted record after tax profits and showed double-digit gains in ad sales. After years of steady viewer migration from broadcast to cable (until the new PPM data magically tilted things the other way last winter), isn’t it just possible that the money followed viewers to the higher-up channels?
You can scan through all 209 pages of the original CRTC pay and specialty finacial summary here, but a breakdown of how the various services fared in 2009 brings a few surprises.
Top 10 most profitable by percentage:
1. MuchMoreRetro 77.3% operating profit margin
2. MuchVibe 72.7
3. Sundance 70.1
4. PunchMuch 67.8
5. MuchLoud 60.3
6. W Movies 60.2
7. Series+ 59.1
Court TV 59.1
9. Showcase Action 56.5
10. Teletoon Retro 56.2
Might as well call the former CHUM music properties MuchProfit. Most of the CTV properties operate with low expenditures and rake it in through the cable and DTH carriage fees. While the percentages are high, the actual revenues are not. At MuchMoreRetro, for example, the stations actual Profit Before Interest and Tax was $615,609 in 2009.
Top 10 most profitable by revenues:
1. W $41,338.671 Profit Before Tax and Interest
2. Rogers Sportsnet $40,666,682
3. TSN $40,263,902
4. Teletoon $35,347,771
5. The Movie Network $28,158,007
6. History $27,264, 241
7. YTV $21,270,325
8. Space $21,269,405
9. HGTV $20,958,486
10. Movie Central $20,231,416
Guess we finally know what “W” stands for—“WOW.” The little station nobody wanted when it was kicked around the specialty tier way back in the day made Corus Entertainment a whopping pre-tax profit of $44.25 million in 2009, delivering a profit margin of 48.4%!
Sports channels generally kept printing money in 2009 despite all that recession talk. In Quebec, RDS showed a pre-tax profit of $25.3 million off total revenues of $105.7 million. Zut alors! That’s nothing compared to the staggering numbers racked up by TSN in 2009: $220.5 million in total revenues, with ad revenues up nearly 5% at $98.5 million for a pre-tax profit of $32.3 million bucks.
Rogers Sportsnet did even better, keeping $39.3 million in pre-tax profit off revenues of $186 million (up 9.69% in 2009).
LeafsTV, on the other hand, fared about as well as the Leafs. The station lost about $1.66 million in 2009, with total revenues falling over 20% to a little over $7.7 million. Still, that’s an improvement on an over $9 million loss in 2008. LeafsTV, in fact, has lost money every year since 2005—which is about when the Leafs last made the playoffs.
Canwest may have lurched into bankruptcy protection in 2009, but not through lack of effort from the specialty sale department in one of the most challenging ad markets ever. Food Network Canada ad revenue was up over 15% in 2009 to more than $30 million, with the station just missing the Top 10 list with $19,069,565 in PBIT profit off total revenue of nearly $41 million. That’s a lot of waffles.
HGTV, which had nearly $50 million in ad revenue, also kept more than $20 million in profits. History Television, which had lower expenses, did even better, keeping $27,264,241 in PBIT. Helping huge there was a nearly 19% jump in ad revenue.
The Weather Channel? Nothing but blue skies with a pre-tax profit of $13,073,634 off total revenues of $48,771,869. TVTropolis did even better in 2009 with a pre-tax profit of $13,409,992 off total revenues of $46.5 million. You’d expect a channel called the Business News Network (BNN) to do well and it did, earning nearly $12.2 million in 2009 and operating at a 44.9% margin.
Children’s networks, which should do even better next year thanks to a huge lift from the PPM ratings ‘roids, had a stellar 2009. Family Channel did $19,624,850 in PBIT profits, just missing joining Teletoon and YTV on the Top 10 profit list.
One hilarious sidelight of the CRTC’s annual pay and specialty financial summary list is the many channels that have switched names (as well as formats) in recent years. The charts are full of headings like “Dusk (formerly Scream), Fine Living (formerly Luxe Net) or MTV Canada (formerly Talktv). The funniest? PrideVision’s “HARDtv (formerly HARD). The last thing a male porn service wants is to be branded “formerly HARD.”
HARDtv—which, uh, doesn’t stick out on several carriers, was also one of the specialty or pay services in Canada to show a loss last year. Their total 2009 revenue was a paltry $126,244 (down nearly 13%) with expenses closer to the $200,000 mark.
Top 10 least profitable pay and specialty stations (by percentage of loss):
1. GameTV -587.7%
2. ATN Zee Gujarati -511.9
3. Super Channel -431.0
4. ATN Music (Hindu) -351.4
5. Telus Edmonton -290.4
6. Teletoon Retro (francais) -232.7
7. AASTHA (South Asian Music) -206.2
8. NuevoMundo -198.0
9. ATN Bangla -171.9
10 Bite -164.2
By far the biggest loser in 2009 was Super Channel, which lost a whopping $60.5 million in 2009. No surprise that it filed for creditor protection last June. The entrenched regional pay-TV monopolies from Astral in the East and Corus in the West–plus a poor cable profile–was kryptonite for Super Channel, where—despite some savvy programming acquisitions–an estimated 220,000 subscriptions last summer fell well short of the 800,000 needed nationally to turn a profit.
Those entrenched pay-TV channels? TMN’s PBIT was over $28 million with MPIX kicking in another $12.35 million (a 54% profit margin). Movie Central did over $20 million.
Meanwhile, cable On-Demand services added to the cable coffers, with Shaw seeing $9.7 million PBIT in 2009 (a 52.4% profit margin) and Rogers grabbing a further $10.5 million through On-Demand services.
Ethnic stations, as the above list indicates, took a beating in 2009, although Telelatino saw a $6.2 million PBIT profit. The main ATN South Asian network also was $3.58 million in the black.
Meanwhile, the news was damn good over at CBC News Network, where $17,859,000 was the profit before interest and tax. CTV News Channel gathered $6,676,568 in 2009.