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In the tube groove

TV pumps News Corp.'s 3rd quarter profits

NEW YORK — TV — meaning higher ad revenues, strong cable profits and sharply lower losses at the broadcast network — boosted News Corp.’s net profit by 27% to $536 million last quarter.

Rupert Murdoch’s giant entertainment conglom posted upbeat numbers just as it received full approval to switch its incorporation to the U.S. from Australia — and amid a flurry of speculation over a move by John Malone’s Liberty Media to potentially boost his voting stake in News Corp. to 17%.

News Corp.’s revenue and operating income both rose 12% last quarter to $5.2 billion and $805 million, respectively.

Cable network programming was a standout as operating income surged 47% to $196 million — up 20% at Fox News and up 39% at other channels, which include FX and Regional Sports Networks. Fox News’ primetime ratings rose 29% from the year earlier. Murdoch, said ad revenue on election eve — about $5 million — trumped the figure for the first eight months after the net’s launch.

Total revenue at the cable net division was about flat at $630 million. It would have been higher if not for the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, whose revenue was included in the year-earlier number.

Murdoch said talks were under way with distributors to launch a Fox Business News channel in the foreseeable future. A reality channel will be up and running sometime in the first half of next year, with 10 million-15 million subscribers at launch.

At News Corp.’s television segment, which houses the broadcast network and stations and Star, operating income rose 30% to $233 million. Revenue was about flat at just over $1 billion. News Corp. cited higher ad pricing at the Fox network, although primetime ratings dipped 12%. Programming and marketing costs at the broadcast net were reduced, and it slashed losses to $4 million from $41 million.

Baseball has boosted ratings since the quarter ended. World Series ratings were up 23% from the year earlier — making it the highest-rated Series since 1996, Murdoch said.

Lower costs also aided Fox TV stations. Income at Star rose 15%, with strong growth in India and China.

Studio profits slumped to $285 million from $328 million as theatrical and homevideo perfs were offset by lower syndication revenue at 20th Century Fox Television and heavy marketing costs on films including “I, Robot,” “Taxi” and “Alien vs. Predator.”

Revenue rose 10% to nearly $1.4 billion.

Company noted theatrical coin from “The Day After Tomorrow” and “DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story” and homevid coin from the “Star Wars” trilogy, “Johnson Family Vacation,” “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” and “Man on Fire.” Fox also handles worldwide distribution for “The Passion of the Christ,” which the company said had shipped 17 million units to date.

Sky Italia posted an operating loss of $121 million compared with $117 million the year before. Revenue surged 45%. The Italian pay TV operator added 167,000 net subscribers in the first quarter for a total of 2.83 million.

Operating profit for magazines and inserts rose to $64 million from $58 million. Revenue was up 4.5% to $232 million. Newspapers posted income of $120 million from $102 million. Revenue jumped to $865 million from $739 million.

Book publishing, led by HarperCollins, saw income flat at $60 million. Revenue surged to $304 million from $191 million.

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