Television

News Corp. net income up 80% at $386 million

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MUMBAI: Rupert Murdoch owned News Corp. has reported second quarter consolidated revenues of $6.6 billion, which is an 18 per cent increase over the $5.6 billion in the previous year. The company's consolidated operating income was $954 million, up 24 per cent over the $770 million a year ago.

The year-on-year growth was driven by double-digit increases at the Filmed Entertainment, Cable Network Programming and Magazine and Inserts segments, despite the inclusion of $36 million in costs associated with the reincorporation.

Net income for the second quarter was $386 million, an increase of $171 million over the $215 million reported in the second quarter a year ago. This strong result is primarily due to higher consolidated operating income and a significant improvement in equity earnings of affiliates, while also reflecting the inclusion of an unrealised loss on the change in fair value of certain outstanding exchangeable debt securities included in other expense.

Commenting on the results, News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said, "While our country of incorporation changed in the second quarter, the growth we continue to deliver remains the same. Operating income was up 24 per cent on revenue gains of 18 per cent, led by record results at our filmed entertainment and cable network programming segments. Film thrived this past quarter as our summer theatrical successes generated even greater returns in home entertainment. At the same time, our diverse set of cable channels turned higher ratings and more desirable demographics into increased revenues and continued profit growth. The ongoing financial strength of these assets speaks not only about the quality of the content that we deliver but also about our ability to translate increased consumer demand into higher profits. While film and cable were the most significant contributors to our growth this past quarter, we also delivered record results at Star and converted strong readership into higher contributions across our various print segments."

"Our financial success this past quarter was matched by our strategic momentum with continued expansion of our global pay television platforms. Sky Italia passed the 3.1 million subscriber mark at quarter-end and BSkyB and DirecTV added 192,000 and 444,000 net new subscribers respectively in this past quarter, henceforth further positioning these assets for sustained growth in the years to come," he added.

The Filmed Entertainment segment reported record second quarter operating income of $407 million, up 57 per cent versus the $260 million reported in the same period a year ago. Second quarter film results were largely driven by the highest ever quarter of worldwide home entertainment revenue led by successful theatrical releases Day After Tomorrow, Garfield, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and I, Robot as well as increased contributions from various catalog titles led by The Star Wars Trilogy.

Additionally, the pay-TV availability of Cheaper By the Dozen and Master and Commander also contributed to the strong quarterly results.

The television segment reported second quarter operating income of $153 million, a decrease of $6 million versus the same period a year ago, primarily reflecting higher contributions from Star more than offset by a decline at the Fox Broadcasting Company.

Fox Television Stations (FTS) second quarter operating income increased slightly over prior year as increased political advertising was largely offset by softness in the overall advertising market and weaker Fox primetime ratings. Current-year results also included lower entertainment programming costs, primarily due to the expiration of various syndicated programs, partially offset by higher promotional costs for the November sweeps and expansion of local news in several FTS markets.

At the Fox Broadcasting Company, second quarter operating losses increased by $26 million compared to a year ago as improved sports advertising and higher pricing for the primetime entertainment schedule were more than offset by a 12 per cent decline in primetime ratings and increased programming costs for returning series as well as the cancellation of several new programs. Following the end of the quarter, the network significantly strengthened its schedule with the return of American Idol and 24, both of which premiered to higher ratings than a year ago and are winning their time slots among key demographics.

Star's second quarter operating income more than doubled, with higher revenues driven by advertising gains, mainly in India, where Star Plus maintains its leadership position as India's top cable entertainment channel. The quarter also included subscription revenue growth primarily due to the launch of Star Chinese Movies.

Cable Network Programming reported second quarter operating income of $227 million, an increase of $72 million over last year's result. The 46 per cent growth was achieved despite the inclusion a year ago of $15 million in recovered Adelphia receivables and reflects continued strength across all of the company's primary cable channels, a positive impact from the NHL lockout and the absence of losses from the Los Angeles Dodgers which was sold during fiscal 2004.

The Fox News Channel (FNC) reported operating income growth of 45 per cent compared to the second quarter a year ago fueled by double-digit advertising revenue growth partially offset by higher costs associated with covering the elections in the US. Viewership during the quarter was up 61 per cent in primetime and 34 per cent on a 24-hour basis as FNC had more total viewers than CNN, MSNBC, Headline News and CNBC combined for the second consecutive quarter.

The company's other cable channels (including the Regional Sports Networks(RSNs),the FX Channel (FX) and Speed Channel) operating profit improved 35 per cent during the quarter driven by double-digit revenue growth at FX and the positive impact of the NHL lockout at the RSNs.The revenue gains at FX were driven primarily by higher advertising from ratings growth and an increase in pricing, as well as higher affiliate revenues from increased rates and additional subscribers.

Sky Italia reported a second quarter operating loss of $105 million versus $104 million a year ago. In local currency terms, losses were reduced 7 per cent versus the prior year on revenue growth of 27 per cent, primarily reflecting strong subscriber additions over the past year.More than 270,000 net new subscribers were added during the second quarter alone resulting in Sky Italia's subscriber base exceeding 3.1 million at quarter end. The revenue growth was mostly offset by increased programming spending during the quarter primarily due to the airing of additional soccer matches and the addition of ten new entertainment and news channels on the basic programming tier as well as higher subscriber acquisition costs. Also during the quarter, the company incurred costs associated with the one-time swap-out of set-top boxes that were using outdated encryption software.

The magazines and inserts segment reported second quarter operating income of $73 million,an increase of 16 per cent versus a year ago. The improvement was primarily driven by higher contributions from the InStore division on higher advertising revenues. Free Standing Inserts results were slightly ahead of a year ago as increased demand for packaged goods pages was mostly offset by lower rates.

The Newspaper segment reported second quarter operating income of $184 million, an 8 per cent increase versus the same period a year ago primarily reflecting advertising revenue growth in Australia.

The Australian newspaper group reported a 34 per cent increase in operating income in local currency terms, primarily driven by a double digit increase in advertising revenue compared to a year ago and the inclusion of results from Queensland Press Pty Limited, which was consolidated beginning 12 November, 2004. Display advertising gains were driven by the retail sector as well as national strength with increases in the communications, consumer finance and airline travel categories. Additionally, classified advertising continued to expand with further growth in the employment and real estate categories.

The UK newspaper group reported an operating income decline of 24 percent in local currency terms as advertising revenue gains were more than offset by increased depreciation and related costs associated with the development of our new printing operations.Advertising revenue growth was achieved across nearly all titles, with particular growth at The Sun as a result of higher volumes in colour display and classifieds. Also during the quarter, circulation revenue was consistent with a year ago as increased circulation revenues from moving fully to a compact version of The Times were offset by a circulation declines at The Sun.

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