With Christmas approaching, News Corp has finally revealed details about how the company will look once it cuts away its hyper-profitable entertainment business and requires its publishing operations to stand on their own. Here’s a look at some of the financial figures that will determine whether the reborn News Corp has a chance after its “divorce of convenience.”
According to an SEC document filed on Friday, news operations, which make up about 80 percent of the restructured News Corp and include the flagship Wall Street Journal, made a 2012 operating profit of $939 million after special items. The books division, which includes publisher HarperCollins and accounts for 14 percent of the new company, had a profit of $86 million.
These figures are the EBITDA (“earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization”) — the number investors examine closely when looking at the health of a company. Other reports today say News Corp’s publishing business is “losing money,” but that is only the case when one-off items like restructuring costs and payments related to the hacking scandal are included. The EBITDA is the more important number.
So what does all this mean for a nervous news and book industry? The good news is that the publishing operations have a fighting chance to flourish on their own. Recall that the split came about in part because many investors believed the newspaper and book businesses were a drag on the company’s money machines like Fox TV and movie studios. Until now, though, it was unclear what cash and assets the new company would be given to start its new life.
The new SEC filing clears up some of these questions by showing that “new News Corp” will have around $1 billion in cash on its balance sheet and little debt. And, in a surprise sweetener, the company will hold on to Fox Sport Australia, which will provide it with a cash cow in the future.
Going forward, though, the company’s news operations are still overly reliant on advertising, a business that is declining dramatically. While the New York Times‘ revenue is now roughly evenly split between advertising and circulation, the ratio at the News Corp properties are closer to 3:2.
The new filing, unfortunately, does not break out financials for individual newspaper properties such as the Wall Street Journal, which has a robust digital subscription model, or The New York Post, which is reportedly losing millions of dollars a year.
Overall, the bottom line is that News Corp’s publishing operations have been thrown out of the nest with a fair parachute. If certain positive trends continue — including the growth of ebooks and the Dow Jones brand — the company will be fine for a few years at least.