Australia 'ahead of the curve' as News profits soar

Having made sure not to "let a good crisis go to waste", News Corp has delivered its most-profitable second quarter in more than seven years.

Group chief executive Robert Thomson didn't mention Winston Churchill - to whom the quotation is attributed - or quote him, but there was a nod to Australian management, "ahead of the curve" in leading regional and local readers by the nose to paywalled digital sites when it closed more than 100 print titles, many of them free, in the early months of the pandemic.

Or as Thomson put it in a briefing to investors, "transitioning many of our local and regional print properties to digital platforms".

Having seen itself as the "natural owner" of APN's Australian regional media, News bid down competition to acquire the titles in 2016 for a bargain $36.6 million, only to close almost all of the print editions in 2020 after the collapse of negotiations to sell them to Antony Catalano's Australian Community Media

Thomson told investors digital subscribers to News Corp Australia's mastheads have hit a record 738,300, compared to 566,600 in the prior year. "In Australia, we were fortunately ahead of the curve in transitioning many of our local and regional print properties to digital platforms, which helped them weather the storm of lockdown," he said.

Turning to media companies efforts to check the market power of digital giants such as Google and Facebook, he said the global industry was at a "pivotal moment", adding that the debate had spread across the globe. "There is not a single serious digital regulator anywhere in the world who is not examining the opacity of algorithms, the integrity of personal data, the social value of professional journalism, and the dysfunctional digital ad market," he said.

News Corp announced it had more than doubled December quarter net profits to $US261 million ($343.4 million) when revenue jumped more than had been forecast, and digital subscriptions and advertising surged.

The group booked revenue of $US2.41 billion (A$3.12 billion) for the second quarter to end-December, up from $US2.12 billion in the September quarter.

In a period "characterised by considerable upheaval", News Corp not only "navigated the turbulence" but, Thomson said, "to be candid, significantly, very significantly, increased profitability".

What is News second quarter of fiscal 2021 was the group's most profitable since reorganisation more than seven years ago, with a 77 per cent jump earnings from subscription video services, mostly Foxtel's rebound with a 90 per cent increase from streaming customers.

Results also show digital real estate earnings jumped 20 per cent $US142 million, Dow Jones - which publishes the Wall Street Journal - had its most profitable quarter since News bought it a decade ago, and the New York Post becoming profitable for the quarter and year-to-date, "the first profit in modern times, at the very least, for what was a chronic, loss-making masthead founded in 1801".

With earnings across the news media business of $US66 million "steady", digital revenue turned in 31 per cent of segment revenue, compared to 22 per cent last year, and amounted to 29 per cent of the combined revenue of the newspaper mastheads.

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