21st Century Fox Earnings Rise Amid Strong Results From Cable Networks, Sports Advertising

John Phillips/Getty Images
Rupert Murdoch

The second-quarter financials beat a 49 cents per-share earnings estimate by analysts by 4 cents.

Spurred on by its cable networks' performance and hosting the World Series, Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox on Monday reported better-than-expected second-quarter earnings.

Revenue for its largest segment, cable network programming, came in at $3.96 billion, up from a year-earlier $3.7 billion. The group's TV stations got a bump from political advertising during the recent U.S. election campaign to bring in revenue of $1.91 billion, compared to a year-earlier $1.71 billion.

Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, during an analyst call on Monday touted Fox News as consistently beating rivals CNN and MSNBC, underscoring the strength of its cable news brand. And he cited Sunday night's Super Bowl LI as big news for Fox Sports as the game climbed to tie the second-most-watched Super Bowl ever for an average 113.7 million viewers.

"This single game is a great example of strength of Fox Sports, increasingly delivered across multiple platforms," said Murdoch. He added the Super Bowl telecast drove 21st Century Fox to its first "half-billion dollar revenue day," which will land in the company's third quarter.

The conglomerate, which owns the Fox TV network, cable channels and the Twentieth Century Fox movie and TV studios, reported quarterly income from continuing operations of $857 million, up 27 percent from $674 million in the year-ago period, and an earnings per-share, excluding items, of 53 cents during the latest financial frame. Analysts surveyed by Yahoo! Finance estimated 21st Century Fox would earn 49 cents a share, on $7.72 billion in revenue.

Quarterly revenue overall rose 4 percent to $7.68 billion, up from a year-earlier $7.38 billion as the group secured higher affiliate and advertising revenues at both the cable network programming and TV segments. That was partially offset by lower content revenues at the filmed entertainment division at $2.26 billion, down from a year-earlier $2.36 billion, due not least to underperformance of movies like Assassin’s Creed and Rules Don’t Apply.

On the TV side, 21st Century Fox benefited from higher ad revenue from its World Series baseball coverage, which included a longer postseason run, and a Trump bump as the group got higher political ad spending at its Fox News Channel.  

On the filmed entertainment side, lower revenues resulted from reduced worldwide theatrical revenues, partly offset by higher TV production revenues led by the subscription VOD licensing of various titles.

21st Century Fox recently made its $14.6 billion takeover offer for European pay TV giant Sky official. CEO James Murdoch told analysts the Sky pay TV brand could jump the Atlantic to land in North American cable bundles, but he stopped short of giving details.

The exec cited the group's Star India brand being bundled in European cable packages to south Asian diaspora consumers, especially in the U.K. "These things can live in different territories, but there's no plans at this point," he said.

Senior execs also talked about their recent deal with Hulu that gives subscribers to the new service set to launch this year access to the broadcaster's entertainment, news, sports and nonfiction programming, including Fox, Fox Sports channels and Fox News.

"We have a high degree of confidence in the Hulu platform, and the team there, in their ability to deliver a ton of streaming across their subscriber base currently," James Murdoch said during the call, underscoring work to ensure successful concurrent streaming of live events, including sports.