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Revenue slumps at Murdoch papers

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News Corporation’s Australian newspapers have suffered a 21 per cent slide in revenue as advertising and circulation continues to fall.

Revenue from the local newspaper business, which includes mastheads like The Australian and Herald Sun, fell by $US103 million ($A111.44 million) in the three months to March 31, compared to the same period a year ago.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp said more than half of the decline was due to the impact of a lower Australian dollar, while weakness in the print advertising market and lower circulation revenue was also a factor.

The Australian newspapers dragged revenue from News Corp’s overall news division, which includes The Times in the UK and The Wall Street Journal in the US, down nine per cent in the quarter.

“Our Australian newspapers are challenged, having again seen a decline in advertising,” Chief executive Robert Thomson said.

“(News Corp Australia chief executive) Julian Clarke and his able team in Australia are fully cognisant of the scope of the challenge and are working ceaselessly to turn around the trend lines.”

News Corp’s Australian websites passed 200,000 subscriptions last week, and the company was looking to bolster digital revenues by better targeting local advertisers, he said.

“The digital strategy in Australia has been recast in recent months, our aim is to strengthen ties with local communities and develop far closer relations with local advertisers,” Mr Thomson said.

News Corp’s profit in the three months to March dropped by 85 per cent to $US48 million ($A51.93 million), though the result was skewed by a one-off gain a year ago from the sale of SKY Network Television in New Zealand.

The weakness in newspapers overshadowed its cable television division, which includes Fox Sports, where earnings grew by eight per cent to $US2 million.

That was due partly to lower costs, as a result of losing broadcast rights for the Twenty20 Big Bash cricket league to Network Ten.

Foxtel, in which News Corp has a 50 per cent stake, posted earnings of $US23 million for the quarter, up from $US17 million a year earlier.

It had 2.6 million subscribers at March 31, up five per cent from a year earlier.

Earnings from the company’s book publishing operations rose by 83 per cent in the quarter to $US53 million, while its online real estate businesses grew earnings by 29 per cent, also to $US53 million.