21st Century Fox second-quarter profit falls 12%

21st Century Fox second-quarter profit falls 12%
The judges of FOX's "American Idol" are caught in the midst of laughter. (Michael Becker / Fox)

Media company 21st Century Fox's fiscal second-quarter profit dropped 12%, largely because big-ticket feature films landed with a thud at the box office and singing competitions on the Fox TV network have been hitting sour notes.

Fox's once-formidable "American Idol" no longer is invincible. The softer "Idol" ratings, and thus lower ad sales, contributed to Fox executives warning Wall Street on Thursday that its full-year earnings would not be as robust as initially thought. Weakness at Los Angeles film studio 20th Century Fox has put an even bigger drag on the company's bottom line.


For the quarter that ended Dec. 31, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled company produced profit of $1.21 billion, or 53 cents a share, down from $2.38 billion, or $1.01 a share, a year earlier.

The large drop in profit primarily was the result of an accounting change. In the previous second quarter, publishing operations were part of the company and contributed $1.3 billion in income. At the end of June, Murdoch divided his corporate empire into two companies, and the publishing businesses now make up a slimmed-down News Corp.

When comparing the same assets, Fox's profit declined 12%.

On the bright side: Fox revenue was up 15% to $8.16 billion.

"We were encouraged by the overall revenue strength, particularly in the important cable segment where affiliate and advertising were surprisingly strong," Marci Ryvicker, media analyst with Wells Fargo Securities, wrote in a Thursday research note.

The film studio had a lackluster quarter. It suffered from higher costs to promote two December releases, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" with Ben Stiller and "Walking With Dinosaurs." Both failed to produce blockbuster ticket sales.

"The Counselor" — directed by Ridley Scott and featuring an A-list cast, including Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt — was another stinker, grossing just $60 million worldwide.

The filmed entertainment division, which includes the 20th Century Fox movie and television studios, generated revenue of $2.48 billion, an increase of 6.5%. But operating income fell 20% to $337 million.

"Our film company has had a difficult first half of the [fiscal] year. We're disappointed," Fox Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey told analysts. "But with this business, it will always have its ups and downs, and we are energized about a number of key releases over the next six months."

Carey said that the Fox broadcast network was continuing its uphill slog. The just-ended quarter suffered because the television show "The X-Factor" stumbled in the ratings.

The broadcast television unit produced $1.63 billion in revenue, a nearly 6% increase from a year earlier. But operating income slipped 11% to $218 million.


Fox's star performer has been its cable television unit, which generated $2.96 billion in revenue, a 14% jump because pay TV operators are paying more to carry Fox's channels, including FX, Fox News Channel and the Fox regional sports networks. Affiliate fee revenue grew 15%.

But the revenue growth in cable was largely offset by a 22% increase in programming costs. Fox News Channel also brought in lower revenue because of tough comparisons with the year-earlier period, when the channel was awash in political spending on the 2012 general election.

A big chunk of the company's overall growth came from a $605-million increase from the company's satellite television unit because of the inclusion of revenue from German pay-TV system Sky Deutschland.

Fox also disclosed that it agreed to pay $680 million to increase its stake in the New York Yankees' YES television network. Fox agreed to shell out an additional $160 million for programming and marketing costs for YES.

The YES deal was announced last month. When the transaction closes, Fox will own 80% of the YES network.