Stems from restructuring charge in publishing business

James Murdoch slipped quietly back into focus at News Corp. on Wednesday, fielding questions on the company’s quarterly earnings call alongside chief operating officer Chase Carey in a rare appearance since the younger Murdoch moved to Gotham after the U.K. phone hacking scandal exploded in London last summer under his watch.

It wasn’t the most auspicious start for James as a corporate captain. News Corp. swung to a massive loss of $1.6 billion last quarter on a $2.9 billion impairment and restructuring charge in the publishing business ahead of plans to split the conglom into two companies. With every operating division but cable networks posting declines, Carey admitted the company was facing “trying times.”

James Murdoch, who is deputy COO, was chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch’s heir-apparent before the scandal and, it seems, may still be despite the widespread hacking at News Corp.’s U.K. newspapers that tarnished his reputation and could still put him at legal risk.

News Corp. took a $57 million charge directly related to the ongoing U.K. hacking probe. In contrast to this year’s fiscal fourth quarter numbers, the conglom recorded a $683 million profit in the year-earlier quarter.News Corp. plans to split off its publishing assets into a separate, publicly traded company, a decision announced in late June — spurred in part by the scandal in the U.K. and by investor pressure to shield the company’s global film and TV assets from the weakness of the publishing biz. Carey said News Corp. will submit its initial regulatory filings by the end of the year to get the process moving, and the transaction will take about a year to complete.

Revenue for the fourth quarter dipped to $8.4 billion from $9 billion.

Strong growth in cable was offset by declines in News Corp.’s film, broadcasting, publishing and satellite units.

Cable networks saw profit surge 26% to $792 million on a 15% boost in revenue led by Fox News, FX, the Fox Intl. Channels and National Geographic Channels group and India’s Star cablers. Advertising revenue rose 5% domestically and 18% internationally. Affiliate sales were up 16% in the U.S. and 31% overseas. Programming costs also rose, by 11%.

Carey talked up News Corp.’s commitment to grow its international sports business. This week it acquired the company that owns broadcast rights to the Dutch soccer premier league. In June, it bought out Disney’s stake in Star Sports in India.

Filmed entertainment profits dropped by $90 million to $120 million on lower theatrical and home entertainment vs. last year, which had “Rio” in theaters and “Black Swan” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” on homevideo. The latest quarter also included release costs for “Prometheus” and “Ice Age: Continental Drift.”

Broadcast television profit dipped by $20 million to $213 million, dragged down by lower ratings at “American Idol” on the Fox network that were significant enough to offset even a doubling of the coin earned by Fox’s local TV stations through retransmission consent fees.

Publishing profit fell to $139 million from $270 million on lower advertising revenue from international papers.

And Sky Italia earnings fell to $89 million from $145 million on loss of subscribers and higher spending to try to keep them.

James Murdoch fielded questions on the performance of Sky Italia, saying the macroeconomic environment is Italy is challenging “but we have very high hopes for that business going forward.”

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