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Fox 3rd-quarter earnings top Wall Street expectations

In this photo provided by FOX Broadcasting, from left, Sam Woolf, Jena Irene and Alex Preston perform on the April 30, 2014, episode of the 13th season of

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In this photo provided by FOX Broadcasting, from left, Sam Woolf, Jena Irene and Alex Preston perform on the April 30, 2014, episode of the 13th season of "American Idol." 21st Century Fox reports quarterly earnings on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (AP Photo/FOX Broadcasting, Michael Becker)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. on Wednesday reported third-quarter earnings that topped analyst expectations as revenue grew thanks to higher advertising sales and a popular Super Bowl.

But its profits were tempered by higher expenses due to the launch of new channels including Fox Sports 1.

The media conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch maintained its forecast that its annual operating profits through June will expand in the mid-to-high single digit percentages from a year ago.

It also stuck to a target of reaching $9 billion in operating profits in the year through June 2016 — 44 per cent higher than in the year to June 2013.

The adherence to the earnings target was a relief to investors after suffering a downgrade from the company three months ago based on weak performance at its movie studio and poor ratings for broadcast TV shows like "The X Factor" and "American Idol."

Barton Crockett, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets, said the steadfast outlook came despite negative foreign currency impacts and unexpected audience weakness.

"They're getting a big stack of issues they didn't plan for and just managing right through them," he said. "What they have is just such an ability to get paid more money by cable and satellite TV companies."

On a conference call with analysts, Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey acknowledged that "Idol" did not attract the following the company anticipated on the Fox network. But he promised that a "unique and edgy" lineup of new and returning shows would be unveiled at a presentation for advertisers on Monday.

Fox has "a proven history of surprising audiences with shows that redefine the TV viewing experience," Carey said. "None of that has changed."

The company said net income in the quarter through March fell 63 per cent to $1.05 billion, or 47 cents per share, from $2.85 billion, or $1.22 per share, a year earlier.

Last year's results were skewed by a special gain of $2.1 billion from raising its stake in German satellite TV operator Sky Deutschland.

After adjustments that offset each other, the resulting 47 cents per share of earnings beat the 35 cents expected by analysts polled by FactSet.

Revenue rose 12 per cent to $8.22 billion from $7.35 billion a year ago. Analysts were expecting revenue of $7.98 billion.

Pay TV revenue grew 11 per cent to $3.15 billion as it earned more in fees from distributors for regional sports networks and channels like FX Network and Fox News. Advertising revenue rose. Operating earnings also went up despite the rising expenses for channel launches.

Broadcast TV revenue rose 27 per cent to $1.59 billion, thanks in part to the advertising bump from the Seahawks' defeat of the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, the most watched TV show in U.S. history.

That, plus strong viewership of the NFL playoffs, more than offset a decline in audience ratings for the talent show, "American Idol." The ratings decline at "X Factor" led to that show's cancellation in February.

Movie studio revenue declined 3 per cent to $2.28 billion though profits rose thanks in part to the sale of TV shows such as "24" and "The Americans" to Amazon's streaming service. Revenue from its satellite TV business rose 16 per cent to $1.53 billion.

Shares in New York-based Fox rose $1.08, or 3.4 per cent, to $33.20 in after-hours trading following the release of results. Earlier, shares closed down 29 cents at $32.12 in the regular session.

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