Cable, 'Deadpool' help Fox earnings meet forecasts

(Reuters) - Twenty-First Century Fox Inc FOXA.O reported quarterly earnings in line with Wall Street expectations as the company's cable channels brought in higher affiliate fees and ad revenue while its movie studio turned out blockbuster film "Deadpool."

The flag of the Twenty-First Century Fox Inc is seen waving at the company headquarters in the Manhattan borough in New York June 11, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo

Fox, owner of cable networks Fox News Channel and FX, reported a better-than-expected 5.7 percent rise in adjusted revenue for the quarter that ended in March. Excluding items, the company earned 47 cents per share, in line with projections from analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue from the cable network business, which accounts for more than half of Fox’s total revenue, rose nearly 10 percent to $3.94 billion in the quarter.

Fox shares were flat in after-hours trading at $29.80.

Fox News Channel benefited from the raucous U.S. election campaign.

Total day and primetime ratings for Fox News topped all U.S. basic cable channels from January through March, the first time in the network’s history that it has led basic cable in both categories for a full quarter, according to Nielsen data.

The network averaged nearly 1.4 million total-day viewers over the quarter and 2.4 million primetime viewers.

FX also got a boost from strong ratings for the miniseries “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”.

Domestic advertising sales in the cable business rose 17 percent in the period, while overall television revenue increased 5 percent to $1.3 billion.

Fox Chief Executive James Murdoch, on a conference call with analysts, confirmed that the company is in talks to supply programming for a new online TV service being developed by Hulu. The move is part of Fox’s strategy to expand its programming to new digital platforms.

“We want to make our programming more available, not less,” Murdoch said.

At the film studio, superhero movie “Deadpool” sold more than $760 million in tickets, making it the highest-grossing R-rated movie in history. The unit’s operating income before depreciation and amortization rose 23 percent to $470 million from a year earlier.

Revenue excluding the sale of Fox’s direct broadcast satellite TV businesses rose to $7.23 billion from $6.84 billion in the third quarter ended March 31.

Analysts on average had expected revenue of $7.18 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

However, net income attributable to shareholders fell to $841 million, or 44 cents per share, from $975 million, or 46 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding items, the company earned 47 cents per share.

Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Narottam Medhora in Bengaluru; Editing by Ted Kerr and Diane Craft