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21st Century Fox Earnings: Cable Gains Can’t Lift Weaker Film Results

UPDATED: Lackluster home entertainment results, a weaker film slate and difficult foreign exchange rates pushed revenues and profits at 21st Century Fox down during the media conglomerate’s most recent fiscal quarter.

Revenues hit $7.38 billion, down 1% from the prior year, missing analysts expectations. Earnings per share topped off at 44 cents compared to 53 cents per share in the year-ago period, which was roughly in line with projections.

Wall Street was expecting earnings of 44 cents a share and $7.51 billion in revenue. It was a quarter that saw the return of Fox’s television hit “Empire,” the release of Ridley Scott’s space epic “The Martian” and several tussles between Fox News and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. There’s also been some preemptive belt-tightening. Last week, word leaked that the media conglomerate is initiating a voluntary buyout program as it looks to reduce staff overhead by $250 million in the coming fiscal year.

Investors didn’t like what they saw. Shares of Fox fell more than 5% in after-hours trading to $23.16. Like many media companies, Fox has been hit hard in recent months amid concerns about the health of the cable business. Shares have fallen roughly 27% over the last year.

As for the rest of the fiscal picture, operating income before depreciation and amortization (OIBDA) increased 2% to $1.73 billion for the three-month period ending in December. Net income fell to $672 million. That’s a sharp drop from the $6.28 billion Fox reported in the same quarter in 2014, but comparisons are problematic. The rise in income was attributable to one-time gains from the sale of the company’s shares in Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia to BSkyB.

Both Fox’s film and television divisions saw operating income declines even as its cable business enjoyed healthy gains. The cable arm’s quarterly segment OIBDA increased 8% to $1.25 billion on stronger affiliate revenue growth. Fox’s cable division encompasses Fox News, FX and National Geographic, among other brands.

Fox’s filmed entertainment unit had a hit with “The Martian,” but the home entertainment results for “Spy” and “The Fantastic Four” couldn’t match the windfall enjoyed by the debuts last year of “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Quarterly segment OIBDA hit $302 million, down from the $336 million reported in the same period a year ago.

The television unit also saw softer results, with quarterly segment OIBDA falling $11 million to $279 million, which the company attributed to lower political advertising.

Fox got the wrong end of the currency stick. The company said that a stronger U.S. dollar had hurt revenues from foreign ticket sales and advertising revenues at overseas assets such as Star.

In a call with investors, executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch called the film results “disappointing,” but said the company was heartened by the success of the Oscar-nominated survival epic “The Revenant” and confident in upcoming releases such as the comic-book adaptation “Deadpool.”

There was one area Fox’s leadership wouldn’t touch — James Cameron’s long-delayed sequels to “Avatar.” A follow-up to the highest-grossing film in history was originally slated to hit theaters in 2017, but there have been reports that the film will not be able to make that release date.

21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch dodged questions about when the film would debut, saying, “When it’s confirmed, we’ll be disclosing that very loudly.”

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