Liberty profits hit $307 mil

NEW YORK — Liberty Media, the programming arm of Tele-Communications Inc., reported dramatically higher net profits of $307.7 million for the third quarter compared with $7 million a year ago as a result of a profit Liberty made on the sale of its stake in Intl. Family Entertainment.

Operationally, however, Liberty’s earnings fell, reflecting the reshuffling of assets that has occurred in the past year. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (cash flow) dropped to $24 million from $42 million a year earlier while revenues fell from $290 million to $125 million.

The quarterly result shows that the Encore/Starz premium movie channel business, combined last July, is doing better than expected. Better distribution for Starz helped lift the division’s revenue 51% to $74 million in the quarter, reducing its cash flow loss from $16 million to $4 million.

Liberty CEO Robert Bennett said Encore/Starz was doing better than expected and should start breaking even in 1998, ahead of schedule.

Liberty’s entertainment and information division, which includes Liberty’s 49% stake in Discovery Communications, doubled its cash flow to $6 million on 33% higher revenue of $121 million.

Bennett revealed that Liberty has continued buying back its own stock, even after completing a tender offer for 15 million shares. For the year to date, Liberty has repurchased 21.97 million shares for $621 million, at an average price of $28.27. Liberty stock closed up 50¢ to $32.50 Monday.

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