Fox Corp. Quarterly Revenue Rises, Boosted by Super Bowl

Lachlan Murdoch
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Lachlan Murdoch

Fox, led by CEO and executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch, posted quarterly revenue of $3.44 billion, up 25 percent from a year-earlier $2.75 billion.

Fox Corp. on Wednesday reported a rise in quarterly revenue, as the owner of Fox News Channel and Fox Entertainment recorded higher advertising revenue due to the broadcast of Super Bowl LIV.

Fox — which, after Rupert Murdoch agreed to sell most of 21st Century Fox to Walt Disney for $71 billion, became a stand-alone company mostly focused on news and sports — reported net income of $90 million for the latest quarter, or 13 cents per share, compared with $539 million in the year-ago period, or $5.29 a share.

Quarterly revenue rose to $3.44 billion, up 25 percent from a year-earlier $2.75 billion.

Wall Street analysts forecast per-share earnings of 72 cents, with overall revenues to hit $3.36 billion.

Fox also reported advertising revenue of $1.55 billion, up from a year-earlier $1.42 billion, helped by the broadcast of the NFL's championship game.

The media conglomerate has more recently been hit by a television advertising downturn as sports leagues have gone dark. On March 31, Fox described the virus impact to the firm as "material" and noted "broadcast rights have been canceled or postponed and the production of certain entertainment content the company acquires has been suspended."

During the latest quarter, cable network programming saw segment revenues rise 6 percent to $1.47 billion, as increases in affiliate, advertising and other revenues offset the impact of fewer live events at Fox Sports due to pro sport leagues shutting down during the coronavirus spread.

The advertising revenue gains were also underpinned by political revenues at Fox TV stations, even as local advertising revenues sharply declined amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Fox forecast local TV station advertising during the fourth quarter will be down 50 percent, compared to year-earlier levels, as marketing budgets for travel, entertainment and restaurant companies have collapsed.

To deal with the coronavirus impact, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch last month announced he would forgo his salary and 700 employees at the company will see pay reductions.

"We delivered exceptional operational and financial results in the quarter, highlighted by our successful broadcast of Super Bowl LIV on Fox. While we remain focused on continuing to execute against the strategy that drove this strong performance, we are acutely mindful of the global health crisis and its countless impacts," Murdoch said in a statement. 

"As we eventually emerge, we are confident that Fox’s focused collection of assets — centered on live and event programming — will be even more in-demand by advertisers and audiences alike, positioning us well for the future and enabling us to maximize long-term shareholder value," he added.

During an analyst call Wednesday, Murdoch pointed to around $600 million in gross revenue secured from airing and streaming Super Bowl LIV, while ratings for the Fox News Channel rose 40 percent year-over-year.

TV viewership across much of the company was up as Americans sheltered in their homes during the pandemic. "We have seen this momentum accelerate into the current quarter, with audience levels rising further, most notably in the younger skewing demos," Murdoch added.

At the same time, the Fox Corp. exec pointed to a "slowdown" in political campaign ad buys amid the COVID-19 crisis as political primaries were delayed, though Murdoch expected political ad revenues to "intensify" as the presidential election in November nears. "We believe we are still on track for a record political season," Murdoch concluded.

With TV sports accounting for around 40 percent of its overall advertising revenues, Murdoch reported the pro leagues shutdown had "so far" not greatly impacted that category as Fox's sports revenue is concentrated in the fall with Major League Baseball's post-season and the college and NFL's football seasons having their biggest audiences.

"Whenever they are ready to start, we will be ready to produce and to broadcast," Murdoch told analysts about pro sport leagues resuming live games and events, starting with the return of NASCAR races on May 17.

On the production side, the CEO predicted work, if allowed, on the fourth season of Fox's The Masked Singer will resume starting in early August after Hollywood abruptly shut down film and TV production in March due to the pandemic. Fox is also preparing for new seasons of 911: Lone Star, Prodigal Son, Lego Masters and other network shows set for mid-season premieres.

Fox last month also completed a deal to acquire the streaming service Tubi TV for $440 million in cash after selling a 5 percent stake in the streaming platform Roku.

"Tubi gives us tremendous reach," Murdoch told analysts, as Fox will put its existing shows like The Masked Singer on that streaming platform, while for now planning no original production for Tubi. He also pointed to audience gains at Fox Nation as the company builds out its direct-to-consumer streaming strategy.

Asked about possible job cuts at Fox due to lower ad revenues and other COVID-19 impacts, Murdoch said the TV group was "fully operational" after earlier slimming down after selling the 21st Century Fox assets to Disney. But with around 70 percent of the Fox Corp. workforce working remotely, he added efficiencies were anticipated in a post-pandemic world.

"There are significant ways we can be more efficient and more agile, as a company," Murdoch told analysts. For example, on the production side, he pointed to virtual writing rooms and development teams where work took place behind the scenes, rather than on "an expensive movie studio lot."

May 6, 3:45 p.m. Updated with comments by Fox Corp. execs on an analyst call.