EA delays new Harry Potter game

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Electronic Arts Inc ERTS.O has delayed until next summer its latest Harry Potter video game, one of its more popular franchises that had been expected to boost earnings and revenue this fiscal year.

Customers stand next to Harry Potter books at a bookstore in Beijing August 16, 2007. REUTERS/David Gray

Shares of EA fell 3 percent after it said on Monday it postponed the “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” game from November 2008 to coincide with the delayed release of the film of the same name by Warner Bros Pictures.

EA said the title had been expected to generate $120 million in revenue and 13 cents a share in profit in its current fiscal year, which ends March 31, 2009.

The profit represented about 9 percent of the average forecast for the company’s full-year earnings before special items of $1.52 a share, according to analysts surveyed by Reuters Estimates. Analysts forecast full-year revenue of $5.1 billion.

Analysts said that $120 million in revenue implied sales of up to 4 million units of the game, making “Harry Potter” a significant title at EA, whose roster includes hits such as “Madden” football and “Rock Band.”

But Stern Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia said the market may have already factored in some of the potential effect of the delay, since Warner Bros' announced the movie's postponement on August 15. Warner Bros is a unit of Time Warner Inc TWX.N.

“I don’t think it will change the revenue and (profit) that they will generate from this title,” he said. “It takes numbers out of this year essentially and put them into next year, so this year goes down slightly,” he said.

Bhatia in August lowered his fiscal year 2009 revenue and profit outlook by $150 million and about 10 cents per share, and raised his 2010 forecast by the same amounts, respectively. He has a “buy” rating on the stock.

EA spokesman Jeff Brown said the company would update its guidance when it reports quarterly results in October. He declined to comment on whether its 2009 financial outlook would fall short of Wall Street’s targets due to the change.

Originally set to debut in November, the new Harry Potter movie was shifted to bolster Warner Bros’s schedule for the lucrative summer movie season, in the wake of the Hollywood screenwriters strike that has forced studios to reconsider release dates.

When it launches, the game will be available for most game consoles including Nintendo's Wii 7974.OS , Sony Corp's 6758.T PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp's MSFT.O Xbox 360, as well as personal computers.

Shares were down $1.33, or 3 percent, to $45.15, in midday Nasdaq trading.

Reporting by Franklin Paul; Editing by Derek Caney