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BSkyB profits surge amid News Corp. takeover saga
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Jan 27, 2011


BSkyB posted soaring profits on Thursday as the British pay-TV giant awaited a possible full takeover by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., and as it bids to repair its reputation after a sexism scandal.

BSkyB said is half-year net profit jumped 59 percent to 407 million pounds (473 million euros, $648 million) as the satellite broadcaster of English Premier League football and the Sky News channel surpassed 10 million customers.

The earnings update for the six months to December came two days after the British government allowed News Corp. more time to argue its case for its bid to take full control of BSkyB in the face of competition concerns.

On Wednesday, Sky Sports football presenter Richard Keys resigned after making disparaging off-air comments about a woman soccer match official in a scandal that led to his colleague Andy Gray being sacked 24 hours earlier.

In a conversation between Keys and Gray ahead of last Saturday's Premier League match between Liverpool and Wolves, both men suggested assistant referee Sian Massey was unlikely to understand the offside rule.

Coverage of the Premier League has been central to BSkyB's growing commercial success over the past 20 years.

Speaking on BSkyB's performance, chief executive Jeremy Darroch said: "The business has delivered a half-year of outstanding performance, with record product sales and strong double-digit growth in revenue, profit and cash flow.

"In recognition of the growing strength of the business, we are increasing the interim dividend by a further 11 percent, the seventh consecutive year of growth," he said in the company's earnings statement.

The group's share price rose 0.66 percent to finish at 762.50 pence in London trade on Thursday. That was comfortably above News Corp.'s offer price of 700 pence a share for the 61 percent of the company it does not own.

"BSkyB defied analysts' estimates as it reported an outstanding set of first-half numbers," said ETX Capital trader Manoj Ladwa.

"Given the increase in sales, revenue and profit, shareholders are unlikely to sell for anything less than a significant premium to the current trading price," he added.

News Corp. in June bid 7.8 billion pounds for BSkyB but it rejected that offer and says it wants 800 pence a share in continuing talks with Murdoch's media empire.

European regulators have said they would not stand in the way of a takeover but there is fierce opposition to the deal from a host of British broadcasters and newspapers.

The government has said that it is likely to refer the deal to Britain's competition watchdog while also offering News Corp. more time to argue its case.

BSkyB also provides telephone and Internet services and on Thursday said that it had bought The Cloud, a public Wi-Fi network operator, for an undisclosed amount.

News Corp. owns 39 percent of BSkyB, making it the group's largest shareholder. News Corp. also includes News International, whose British Sunday tabloid, News of the World, is at the centre of a phone hacking row.

British police on Wednesday launched a fresh investigation into allegations that celebrities had their phones hacked by the newspaper.

The scandal led to the resignation last week of British Prime Minister David Cameron's communications chief Andy Coulson, the newspaper's former editor.

Murdoch has snubbed the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland, reportedly to deal with the crises at the News of the World and Sky Sports.

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