More new subscribers tuned in to the satellite television broadcaster BSkyB between October and December than in any three-month period during the past three years.
A bumper run-up to Christmas saw 215,000 new customers sign up, taking the total number of viewers of the UK's biggest pay-TV company to 8.1 million by the end of last year. That beat the 8 million target set by James Murdoch when he became chief executive a little more than two years ago.
Mr Murdoch said: "The company is in better health than it has been for a very, very long time, if ever. Overall, the performance of the business feels like a very good first half of the year."
Pre-tax profits were surprisingly strong in the six months to the end of December, the first half of BSkyB's financial year. At £390m, they were 14 per cent higher than a year earlier. Revenues were 9 per cent better at £2.14bn.
As promised, Mr Murdoch boosted the interim dividend by far more than the growth in earnings per share. It jumped 38 per cent to 5.5p a share, paid from earnings up 17 per cent at 14.9p.
Paul Richards, the media analyst at Numis, said: "The numbers they reported were ahead of expectations in pretty much every area. We are particularly pleased with the reduction in the number of customers leaving and the increase in the dividend."
The figures spurred the broadcaster's shares to close up 3 per cent at 502p. They had fallen 14 per cent over the past year on concerns BSkyB would be forced to raise spending on marketing to fend off tougher competition from the likes of BT Group, which is developing on-demand TV.
Yesterday's improvement came despite a cautionary note from Mr Murdoch on prospects for the second half of BSkyB's financial year. He admitted only 100,000 more customers are likely to sign up in the six months to the end of June. But that is expected to pick up in time for Christmas, and Mr Murdoch reassured shareholders he is still confident his company will have 10 million customers in 2010.
He downplayed concerns about the impending merger of the cable companies NTL and Telewest, and their likely tie-up with Sir Richard Branson's mobile phone operator, Virgin Mobile. Mr Murdoch said: "Our brand is trusted to provide these services and content more than any other [company]."Reuse content