UPDATE 1-World Cup helps ITV to first-half earnings beat

Wed Jul 30, 2014 4:25am EDT

* H1 EBITDA 322 mln stg vs forecast 315 mln

* Revenue up 7 pct at 1.23 bln stg

* Interim div up 27 percent to 1.4p/shr (Adds CEO comments, analyst reaction, shares)

By Paul Sandle and Kate Holton

LONDON, July 30 (Reuters) - ITV Plc, the British commercial broadcaster that has caught the eye of pay-TV group Liberty Global Plc, posted a higher-than-expected 11 percent rise in first-half adjusted earnings, helped by the draw of the soccer World Cup.

John Malone's Liberty, owner of British cable TV group Virgin Media, bought a 6.4 percent stake in the broadcaster earlier his month from satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

ITV's shares rose as much as 7 percent after the purchase was made public, on speculation it could lead to a full takeover bid, although the U.S. group said it did not intend to make an offer.

The stock reached a 13-year high of 210 pence on Wednesday after the first-half earnings beat, along with a commitment from the Coronation Street soap opera broadcaster to raise its dividend more than 20 percent a year for the next three years.

ITV Chief Executive Adam Crozier said he was not aware of Liberty's ambitions and wouldn't be distracted wondering about them.

"Liberty's intentions are very much a matter for them," he told reporters on Wednesday. "We have a very clear strategy which is delivering excellent results. We are fully focused on delivering that plan."

Crozier said the only contact he had had with Liberty was a call from Chief Executive Mike Fries the evening before the $800 million purchase was announced to the stock market.

Crozier said ITV, which also includes a production arm, had delivered double-digit profit growth in every area of the business in the six months to the end of June.

ITV's share of viewing, however, fell 5 percent in the half year across all its channels, reflecting a "disappointing" performance from ITV 2 and ITV 3. It was down 3 percent for flagship ITV 1.

Crozier noted the audience share had picked up in the second quarter, helped by the World Cup. "We're confident of our strong Autumn schedule, with both new and returning drama and entertainment," he said.

The company posted first-half revenue of 1.23 billion pounds ($2.1 billion), up 7 percent, and adjusted earnings before interest, tax and amortisation of 322 million pounds, against the 315 million expected by analysts according to a company-compiled consensus.

The broadcaster said its net advertising revenue for the period rose 7 percent, and was expected to be up by between 4 percent and 5 percent in the third quarter across its family of channels.

Analysts at brokerage Jefferies, who have a "buy" rating on ITV, said the first-half numbers were somewhat overshadowed by Liberty Global's activities, but noted ITV had nonetheless delivered a solid operational performance.

"Financially we believe the business is in great shape and both the interim dividend and the commitment to (increase by in excess of 20 percent a year) will resonate," they said. ITV said it would raise its first-half dividend 27 percent to 1.4p per share. ($1 = 0.5905 British Pounds) (Editing by David Holmes)