Time Warner beats Street, sees tougher 2nd qtr

Thu May 3, 2012 1:16am IST

The entrance to the Time Warner Center is seen at Columbus Circle in New York August 4, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/Files

The entrance to the Time Warner Center is seen at Columbus Circle in New York August 4, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton/Files

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(Reuters) - Time Warner Inc (TWX.N) said on Wednesday it is taking a $35 million charge related to the cancellation of the HBO series "Luck," and that it now expects its second quarter to be "challenged," with most earnings growth to occur at the end of the year.

While the company stood by its full-year earnings forecast, Chief Financial Officer John Martin said the current quarter will be affected by declines in the publishing division and a planned expense related to the sale of TV drama "The Mentalist," which aired on CBS before it was sold to TNT.

Martin spoke to analysts on a conference call after the company posted higher-than-expected profit and revenue for the first quarter.

Shares of Time Warner, which owns a host of cable networks, premium TV services, magazines and a movie studio, were down about 2 percent on Wednesday afternoon.

"It adds risk when you push off earnings growth to the end of the year," said Needham & Company analyst Laura Martin, referring to the share decline.

Time Warner executives were upbeat about the "upfronts," where marketers preview upcoming TV programs and book advertising slots in advance of the TV season.

Martin said the company is seeing double-digit price increases as well as strong demand for its sports content.

Edward Jones analyst Robin Diedrich said the economy is improving, and that consumers and advertisers are feeling more confident about spending, which should benefit Time Warner and other media companies.

"That will be good timing for the upfront market," Diedrich said.

First-quarter revenue from the company's TV and cable networks, which include TNT, CNN and HBO, rose 3 percent to $2.6 billion.

Time Warner's results were solid but not as stellar as media peer CBS Corp's (CBS.N) results on Tuesday, said Gabelli & Co analyst Brett Harriss.

CBS posted a better quarter than expected, driven by healthy advertising growth and increases in fees it charges cable and broadcast networks to carry its content.

Net income for Time Warner fell to $581 million, or 59 cents a share, from $681 million or 59 cents a share a year before. Time Warner bought back about 24 million shares from January 1 through April 27.

Adjusted for impairment charges, including a $35 million charge related to the cancellation of the HBO series "Luck," and a $52 million charge for shutting down the Imagine entertainment network in India, the company reported earnings per share of 67 cents. That was 3 cents above Wall Street analysts' average estimates, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Analysts had expected the company to take a charge related to "Luck," which starred Dustin Hoffman and focused on the world of horse racing. The drama, which suffered from low ratings, was canceled last month after accusations by animal-rights activists of poor working conditions for horses.

The company's film division, which includes the Warner Brothers studio, saw revenue rise 7 percent, lifted by the movie "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," which grossed about $535 million at the box office, as well as "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island."

Its publishing unit, which owns People, Sports Illustrated and Time magazines, saw revenue fall 3 percent to $773 million on declining advertising and subscription sales.

Total revenue for the company rose 4.4 percent to $6.98 billion. Analysts were expecting revenue of $6.8 billion.

Time Warner shares were down 1.7 percent at $37.26 on Wednesday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting By Liana B. Baker; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Maureen Bavdek and Matthew Lewis)

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