News Corp. reports 2Q profit on ad recovery

LOS ANGELES: News Corp., whose 20th Century Fox movie studio is still riding the tail wind of "Avatar" in movie theaters, said Tuesday it earned $254 million in the most recent quarter, thanks to an advertising recovery.

"Avatar" was released late in the just-ended fiscal second quarter, so the company booked much of the costs of releasing it, but little of the profit. News Corp. said half of the film's profits — which analysts expect could hit around $400 million — will boost results in the current and following quarter.

The movie's $2 billion-plus box office gross is the biggest in history, and it has maintained the No. 1 spot at the box office for seven straight weeks.

That, plus a recovery in the local TV advertising market, prompted News Corp. to increase its operating profit outlook for the fiscal year ending in June. Its shares were down 23 cents, or 1.8 percent, at $12.53 in after-hours trade.

News Corp. shared expenses and thus profits on "Avatar" and the company expects to share about half of the risk with investors again on a sequel to the 3-D film that is being discussed but has not been agreed upon yet.

"After the experience of our partners this time, we think they'll be back," said Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch, who controls the company, on a conference call with analysts and journalists.

News Corp.'s results were also helped by better home video revenues from movies such as "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" and strong performance from Fox News Channel and other cable channels. It also owns The Wall Street Journal. Newspaper operating profits and revenues grew.

Net income for the quarter came to 10 cents per share. The company lost $6.42 billion, or $2.45 per share, in the year-ago period, when earnings were hurt by a $6.7 billion after-tax charge to write down the value of its TV stations, newspapers and cable channels, due mainly to the recession's impact on advertising.

Revenue rose 10 percent to $8.68 billion.

The current quarter's earnings were hurt by a one-time $500 million charge to settle an antitrust lawsuit brought by Valassis Communications Inc.

Absent the charges and other one-time items, adjusted earnings reached 25 cents, beating the 20 cents per share expected by analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Analysts also expected just $8.23 billion in revenue.

News Corp. said its operating profit for the year through June would be in the "low 20 percent-range" above last year's $3.44 billion.

That's better than it predicted in November for a "high single digit to low double digit" percentage increase. It came on record-breaking results for "Avatar" and deals to get paid cash by cable companies to retransmit Fox broadcast signals, offsetting weakness at the SkyItalia satellite TV service and MySpace online social hub.

Murdoch said he was not interested in buying Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. or The Walt Disney Co.'s Miramax Films — two troubled filmmaking units around which potential buyers are circling.

"At the right price we'd be interested, but it appears that other people are more interested. So I think you can count us out of that one altogether," Murdoch said of MGM. "And I can rule out Miramax right away."