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Malone’s mixed bag

Discovery income rises, Starz Encore dips

John Malone’s Liberty Media, busily transitioning from investment portfolio to operating outfit, Thursday said operating income doubled at its Discovery Communications cable programming unit but dipped 7% at its Starz Encore cable movies division in the second quarter.

In a conference call with analysts, Liberty execs said the Denver-based company remains interested in buying entertainment assets of Vivendi Universal. But they said no decision has been made about a possible spinoff of Liberty’s international assets.

Closer to home, the company expects to close within a few months on its agreement to buy Comcast’s 57% stake in Philadelphia-based home-shopping channel QVC, in which Liberty holds a 43% stake.

And in yet another move helping Liberty morph from holding company to media operator, the company focused Thursday on the quarterly performances of Discovery and Starz Encore, which have often been buried amid an avalanche of other financial results in past statements.

Silver Springs, Md.-based Discovery, in which Liberty holds a controlling 50% stake, saw operating income rise to $96 million in the latest quarter from $37 million in the year-earlier period. Gains were fueled by rising show ratings.

Discovery’s revenue climbed 18% to $490 million in the period.

Operating income at Starz Encore dropped to $52 million in the latest quarter. Profit was hurt by a rate dispute with Comcast, which has withheld some fees pending resolution of the flap.

The financial results were announced after the close of market trading. Liberty shares climbed 18¢ to $11.18 Thursday.