21st Century Fox Quarterly Earnings Exceeds Expectations

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Rupert Murdoch

The news come at a crucial time for the conglomerate, as reports have spread that the Murdoch family might be interested in selling the Fox film studio and many other assets to Disney.

21st Century Fox earned an adjusted 49 cents per share in its most recent quarter, down two pennies from the same period a year earlier but better than what Wall Street anticipated, the company said Wednesday. Revenue came in at $7 billion, 8 percent better than last year.

The conglomerate was expected to earn 48 cents per share on $6.87 billion in revenue. Wall Street, though didn't react to the better-than-anticipated quarterly results, as it seemingly has bigger things on its mind. 

That's because the financial results come at a crucial time for the conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch and sons, as news has spread that the Murdoch family might be interested in selling the Fox film studio and many other assets to the Walt Disney Co. for roughly $20 billion.

Lachlan Murdoch, though, said at the top of a conference call with analysts that executives would "not be responding, at all, to recent press speculation."

He also said execs were restricted in what they could say about the company's ongoing effort to purchase the 41 percent of the Sky satellite TV service that it doesn't already own. James Murdoch, the CEO, did say Wednesday, though, that he expects the Sky deal to close in the first half of next year.

Also on the mind of some analysts is the recent arrest of Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and his sale of his 5 percent stake in 21st Century Fox. The prince was an ally of Rupert Murdoch and could usually be counted on to vote his shares in unison with the company's founder.

Company co-executive chairmen Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch said the better-than-expected results are in large measure owed to the television business. The cable network programming segment, in fact, saw the most revenue growth at $4.2 billion in the quarter compared to $3.8 billion last year.

"The company's double-digit gains in affiliate revenues demonstrate our strength in the dynamic global market for distinctive video brands and content across both established distributors and new entrants," the two said in a joint statement.

The conglomerate noted that the Fox News Channel, FX Networks and regional sports networks were particularly strong, and operating income in the segment rose to $1.5 billion from $1.4 billion last year.

The Fox broadcast network managed to grow revenue 3 percent even though political advertising was way down compared to a year ago because it posted higher sales due to rising retransmission consent fees. Operating income, though, fell significantly, from $191 million to $122 million in the segment.

The filmed entertainment segment grew revenue to $2 billion from $1.9 billion, but operating income fell to $256 million from $311 million. The company said the lackluster results for the segment were due to less TV licensing fees during the quarter, given that last year it had hefty TV money coming in from X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Martian.