Updated from 5:14 p.m. EDTRupert Murdoch bristled at the notion that adding Natalie Bancroft, a 27-year-old opera singer living in Europe, to News Corp.'s ( NWS) board was a disservice to the media empire's shareholders. "That's rubbish," said Murdoch on a conference call with analysts following the company's first-quarter earnings release after Wednesday's closing bell. "The experts said Google's ( GOOG) structure would be bad for shareholders." Bancroft is News Corp.'s pick from her family, the controlling shareholders of Dow Jones ( DJ), to join the media conglomerate's board as part of its agreement to buy the Wall Street Journal publisher. Having bickered over finding a choice of their own beyond their deadline, the Bancroft family ceded their opportunity to choose their representative themselves. "They're a funny family," said Murdoch. In the long and convoluted process leading up to an agreement between News Corp. and Dow Jones, the opportunity for the Bancrofts to appoint a family representative to sit on News Corp.'s board was one way to ease the pain of selling the company. The representative was viewed as someone who could stand up for the protection of Dow Jones' storied media properties and their longstanding traditions in journalism. According to The Journal, Natalie Bancroft is, "by her own admission, is a relative neophyte to the worlds of both journalism and commerce." She's reportedly a Formula One car-racing fan who studied music at a private conservatory in Lausanne and has never been an active player in her family's stewardship of Dow Jones.
"We think Natalie is going to be a wonderful addition to our board of directors and we look forward to working with her," said Murdoch. For the first quarter ended Sept. 30, Murdoch's media empire reported net income of $732 million, or 23 cents a share, for the September period, down from the $843 million, or 27 cents a share, it logged for the same quarter last year. News Corp. attributed the profit drop to one-time gains recorded last year related to asset sales. On an operating basis, the company reported a 23% jump in earnings to $1.05 billion. Revenue jumped 20% to $7.07 billion. The company's earnings beat Wall Street's target by a penny, based on Thomson First Call's average analyst estimate, and its top line surpassed predictions of $6.5 billion. Success at News Corp.'s film division powered the company's performance, thanks to strong showings from The Simpsons Movie, which has grossed over $524 million in worldwide box office, and Live Free or Die Hard, which has surpassed $375 million in box office returns. The filmed entertainment division posted a 51% gain in operating income for the quarter to $362 million. Murdoch said on the call that Fox Interactive Media Internet division, which includes the popular social networking site MySpace, posted first-quarter revenues of $188 million, up 80% from last year. Losses at its business division in News Corp. narrowed to $43 million from $73 million a year earlier.
News Corp. attributed the improvement to higher search revenues from its ad partnership with Google ( GOOG); advertising revenue growth, driven by increased traffic; further inventory monetization; and international expansion. While News Corp.'s wide array of media properties adds up to a dependable cash-generating machine for investors, Wall Street is looking for signs that the company can turn its digital assets into a new engine of profitable growth. News Corp.'s acquisition of Dow Jones is expected to close in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the company launched its new cable business news channel, Fox Business News, to rival General Electric's ( GE) CNBC. The nascent network has debuted to harsh critiques, but News Corp.'s stellar track record in the industry has investors reserving judgment. Shares of News Corp. were recently up 37 cents, or 1.7%, to $22.33 in after-hours trading. The shares shed 3% in regular trading hours amid a broader selloff in the stock market.