Twenty-First Century Fox revenue beats as cable sees highest earnings ever

(Reuters) - Twenty-First Century Fox Inc's FOXA.O, the media and entertainment company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, reported quarterly revenue that beat analysts' estimate on Wednesday, as higher fees from cable and satellite distributors drove cable business earnings to a record high.

FILE PHOTO: The Twenty-First Century Fox Studios flag flies over the company building in Los Angeles, California U.S. on November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Fox, which agreed to sell the bulk of its film and TV assets to Walt Disney Co DIS.N last year in a $52.4 billion deal, expects to ask for shareholder approval of the transaction this summer, Lachlan Murdoch, executive chair, said on an analyst call.

Murdoch declined to comment on reports that Comcast Corp CMCSA.O is preparing an all-cash rival offer for the assets, which Reuters first reported Monday

Fox expects to receive UK regulatory approval on its bid to buy the remaining stake it does not already own of European pay-TV provider SKYB.L in the next couple of months, James Murdoch, chief executive officer of Twenty-First Century Fox, said on the call. Comcast this week notified regulators of its plans to bid for Sky.

“Given Comcast’s bid for Sky, we are considering our options,” James Murdoch said, adding that the company would make an announcement in “due course.”

Revenue from Fox’s cable division, which houses the Fox News and FX channels among others, rose 9.8 percent to $4.42 billion, accounting for more than half of total revenue in the fiscal third quarter ended March 31.

That beat analysts’ average estimate of $4.4 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Despite the departure of former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly amid sexual misconduct allegations last spring, prime-time ratings of Fox News have held up when looking at April compared to the year-ago period, Lachlan Murdoch said.

“That’s a real testament to the strength of the brand and obviously the strength of the talent on air,” he said.

The company reported revenue of $3.51 billion in affiliate fees, a rise of 11 percent from a year earlier.

Revenue at its television unit, which houses Fox Broadcasting, was $1.15 billion, down 32 percent from the year-ago quarter, which included the Super Bowl, and missed analysts’ estimate of $1.28 billion.

Total revenue fell 2 percent to $7.42 billion, but beat estimates of $7.4 billion.

Net income attributable to shareholders increased to $858 million, or 46 cents per share, from $799 million, or 43 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, Fox earned 49 cents per share, missing analysts’ estimate of 53 cents per share.

Fox shares were flat in after-hours trading.

Reporting by Jessica Toonkel in New York and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvilaand Leslie Adler