COMPANY TOWN

Disappointing Fox film unit crimps earnings at Rupert Murdoch's company

Despite a boost from Cookie and Lucious, Rupert Murdoch's empire, 21st Century Fox, failed to hit the fiscal second-quarter revenue notes that Wall Street had hoped to hear.

The Fox broadcast network delivered a strong performance for the quarter ended Dec. 31, with higher revenue for its NFL programming and primetime lineup, particularly the hit show, "Empire," which follows the audacious exploits of the fictional Cookie and Lucious Lyon family dynasty.

However, the 20th Century Fox filmed entertainment unit, based in Los Angeles, turned in a disappointing performance.

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The film studio released the blockbuster "The Martian" with Matt Damon and "The Peanuts Movie," but those films weren't enough to make up for tough comparisons.

In the year-earlier period, Fox film results were fueled by home video DVD sales for "X-Men: Days of Futures Past" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." Home video sales were lighter this time around for the Melissa McCarthy comedy "Spy."  

Fox released its fiscal second-quarter earnings Monday. The company delivered net income of $748 million, or 34 cents a share, down from $6.3 billion, or $2.88 a share in the previous year.

Excluding contributions from divested units, the company produced earnings of 44 cents a share, compared to 53 cents, in the year-earlier period. That matched Wall Street's forecasts.

But quarterly revenue of $7.38 billion fell short of expectations. In the year-earlier period, Fox generated $8 billion in revenue.

Wall Street analysts had predicted the company would generate $7.5 billion in revenue, according to a Thomson Reuters. The company brought in less revenue, in large part, because Fox sold its Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland pay-TV businesses in November 2014. Those businesses produced $631 million of revenue in the year-earlier period.  Fox's profitable cable TV channel division, which includes FX and regional sports networks, brought in 9% higher revenue to $3.7 billion. Standout Fox News Channel, which has been riding a wave of heightened interest in this year's Republican presidential contest, also posted strong ratings and higher advertising revenue.

Broadcast TV revenue was up 6% to $1.7 billion, helped by the TV "Empire" and strong NFL ratings. However, the unit's operating income was down, in large part, because of higher sports costs and fewer World Series baseball games.

Filmed Entertainment revenue fell 14% to $2.36 billion in revenue. The film unit, which includes the film and TV production studios, also lacked contribution from the Shine TV production unit, which was folded into a joint venture with another firm.

Fox also has substantial overseas TV operations so the company got dinged by the adverse effect of foreign currency exchange rates.

"Overall, we are pleased with the momentum at a majority of our businesses," Fox Executive Chairman Lachlan Murdoch told analysts during an afternoon conference call.

Fox is looking to cut $250 million in expenses this year.

Fox CEO James Murdoch said Monday the financial benefit of those cuts, which include buyout packages being offered to longtime employees, would hit the books in 2017.

Fox shares closed down 48 cents, or 1.9%, to $24.59.  Shares fell in the after hours market after the company's earnings came out and the company revised its guidance for the year.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

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