Acquisitions drive News Corp profits

News Corp lifted full-year earnings for fiscal 2015 to $8.63 billion as a result of growth in the company’s book publishing and digital real estate services divisions.

The full-year figure is a 1 per cent increase from $8.57 billion the previous year, and partially offset declines in the company’s news and information services division.

The increase was primarily a result of the acquisitions of book publisher Harlequin and Move, a major US digital real estate company.

Earnings before interest tax depreciation and amortisation rose 11 per cent to $US852 million from $770 million the previous year.

However, with impairments and restructuring costs of $US455 million, the company incurred a full-year loss of $US145 million. The bulk of the impairment was due to a writedown on the company’s education business Amplify, following a decision to cease marketing to new customers.

Amplify will continue to provide service and support to its existing customers while it reviews strategic alternatives to its remaining digital education businesses.

Revenue in the news and information services division, which includes the company’s newspapers, slipped 7 per cent in the year to $US5.73 billion from $US6.15 billion the previous year.

The release of the results follows a meeting in Sydney of the News Corp board, the first time the international board had met in Australia since the spin-off of 21st Century Fox in 2013.

News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson said the company had a strong fourth quarter finish to a good fiscal year.

“Despite an uneven global economy, very tough currency headwinds and the ongoing transformation of the media landscape, for fiscal 2015 we posted stable revenues, robust EBITDA growth and healthy free cash flow,” he said.

“With disciplined internal investments, strategic acquisitions and ongoing product innovation, we have aggressively shifted the company to be more global and more digital.

“We have clearly emerged as an international leader in digital real estate, opened up new territories at HarperCollins, expanded digital subscriber penetration at our mastheads and successfully integrated our programmatic exchange, creating new digital and mobile advertising opportunities across News Corp.”

Mr Thomson said although the Australian operations had been hit by a lower Australian dollar, the businesses had become more profitable through cost-cutting measures, new cover price and digital subscription strategies and higher online advertising revenues.

“Our leadership team in Australia is continuing to develop our mastheads, which are powerful platforms for advertisers in print and in digital,” he said.

Mr Thomson told analysts on a conference call that talks between the company’s pay-TV broadcaster Fox Sports and the National Rugby League about a new TV rights deal were “far from over”. “Football rights are a contact sport themselves and the match for the NRL rights is probably about half-time,” he said.

Figures within the news and information services division were not broken down.

However, separate reports show Foxtel revenues fell by 8 per cent to $US239 million, with earnings down 16 per cent to $US143 million. The pay-TV business 50 per cent owned by News increased subscribers by 9 per cent to 2.8 million and lowered its churn rate, but the bottom line was hit by lower subscription rates to fend off competition from streaming services and a weaker Australian dollar.

REA Group posted a 24 per cent increase in full-year profits to $185.4 million, with revenue up 20 per cent to $522.9 million on the prior corresponding period.

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