Weaker movies, ratings force Fox to trim outlook

Thu Feb 6, 2014 11:54am EST

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp and 21st Century Fox, arrives at New York State Supreme Court with his lawyers in New York, November 20, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp and 21st Century Fox, arrives at New York State Supreme Court with his lawyers in New York, November 20, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

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(Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox Inc, the television and film company split off from News Corp last June, lowered its fiscal-year outlook on Thursday, blaming missed targets at its movie studio and weak broadcast network ratings.

However, its shares rose nearly 3 percent as investors shrugged off the news and focused instead on the company's long-term prospects, which analysts said are boosted by its focus on sports and profitable stable of cable networks.

"Ratings trends are not a surprise and are pretty ugly but the fundamental strategy of investing aggressively in sports and cable networks show Fox is making the correct long term investments to build the business," said BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield.

Fox shares rose almost 3 percent before slipping back to trade up 1.8 percent at $32.29. The stock is trading up more than 10 percent since the June split.

Chief Financial Officer John Nallen said on a conference call Fox was lowering its full year forecast of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) to mid-to-high single digit percentage growth.

That was down from high single digit to low double digit percentage growth that it previously announced. The company, which owns cable networks such as Fox News and FX, reported results for its fiscal second-quarter to December 31.

Nallen said the film unit underperformed company expectations and ratings for musical TV contests "The X Factor" and "American Idol" were weaker-than-expected.

Evercore analyst Alan Gould said he expected Fox to lower its forecast but maintained that "Fox is the quickest growing of the entertainment conglomerates.

SPORTS SPENDING

Fox said its domestic advertising revenue increased 7 percent in the quarter. That beat U.S. cable network rivals Viacom and Time Warner Inc, which each reported slower growth than Fox in the quarter.

The company credited the ad increase to double digit growth at FX networks, its new sports network Fox Sports 1 and its regional sports networks.

Fox has spending heavily on sports, going after Walt Disney Co's ESPN on a national basis with its Fox Sports 1 channel that launched in August.

Fox said its expenses rose 22 percent to $1.6 billion in the quarter, partly due to some of these sports investments.

On January 24, it took an 80 percent stake in the YES Network, a regional sports channel focused on the New York Yankees baseball team.

Fox recorded $8.16 billion of total revenue in the quarter, a 15 percent increase from the same period a year earlier. Analysts were expecting revenue of $7.89 billion.

Net income was $1.2 billion, or 53 cents per share, down from $2.38 billion a year ago, or $1.01 per share.

Excluding items such as BSkyB's share buyback program, earnings per share were 33 cents, which matched Wall Street estimates, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Fox's filmed entertainment unit, which includes its movie studio, saw revenue fall 21 percent without the hits it had a year earlier in the quarter such as "Taken 2".

It also had "higher theatrical release costs" in the quarter for "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and "Walking with Dinosaurs".

(Reporting by Liana B. Baker; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Sophie Hares)

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