Write-off and costs send News plunging

News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch's master company, saw third- quarter profits plunge 69 per cent to $59m (pounds 39m), and blamed higher costs at satellite broadcaster Star TV and a $152m write-off following the sale of HarperCollins's educational publishing arm to Pearson.

Operating profits before the write-off were 3 per cent lower at $211m, on revenues 7 per cent ahead at $2.3bn. The company pointed to the costs of rolling out Star TV, which recently became the second foreign satellite service in Japan. Distribution and programming costs were both higher in the period.

The UK was a bright spot, both in newspapers and in satellite broadcasting, where BSkyB, owned 40 per cent by News Corporation, this week announced record nine-month profits.

The company's four national newspapers each posted circulation and advertising revenue gains, while operating profits were up 8 per cent quarter-to-quarter. The Times managed to maintain its circulation gains despite cover price increases earlier this year. Circulation is holding at about 670,000 for the title. The down-market Sun continued to sell in excess of 4 million copies daily.

The newspaper outlook has been improved by a softening in the cover-price war and a lull in the rise of newsprint prices.

In the US, the company's Fox television stations saw operating profits jump by 25 per cent, but the Fox Broadcasting Company, which supplies programmes and marketing services for the network, posted lower earnings following a rise in licence fees and promotional spending.

The US and UK book publishing operation, HarperCollins, was boosted by several bestsellers, including In Contempt, by Christopher Darden, a member of OJ Simpson's defence team. But the US paperback market and the UK market generally were both soft, the company said.

HarperCollins sold its educational publishing arm to Pearson for $575m in the quarter, saying it intended to concentrate on consumer and electronic publishing. Anthea Disney, formerly editor-in-chief of News Corporation's TV Guide, was appointed the chief executive of HarperCollins earlier this year.

Yesterday, Turner Broadcasting System, owner of the news network CNN, said it was confident its $7.5bn merger with Time Warner will survive regulatory scrutiny, despite reports over the weekend that the Federal Trade Commission was poised to block the deal.

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