BSkyB hopes results can outshine hacking headlines
Probes into phone hacking and the legacy of a failed bid by Rupert Murdoch to seize full control look likely to overshadow a resilient set of results from satellite broadcaster BSKyB on Wednesday.
BSkyB, already 39 percent-owned by Murdoch's News Corp, was dragged firmly into the centre of the hacking storm engulfing Murdoch's British newspaper business when its Sky News channel admitted last month that it hacked into emails on two occasions.
The channel said it had acted in the public interest but has been reprimanded for breaking the law by Judge Brian Leveson, who is leading an inquiry into press standards that is rocking the British establishment by delving into ties between journalists, politicians and police officers.
Shares in BSkyB had been riding at their highest level in almost 10 years until revelations in July 2011 that an investigator for Murdoch's now defunct News of the World newspaper had hacked into the voicemail messages of murdered school girl Milly Dowler.
Murdoch's son, James, was chairman of BSkyB when the scandal first broke and its shares have subsequently lost almost 20 percent of their value, despite continued growth of the business and moves to placate disgruntled shareholders.
BSkyB last year announced it would hand 1 billion pounds back to shareholders via a buyback and James Murdoch, once tipped as heir apparent to his father's media empire, last month quit his chairmanship.
The damage to BSkyB's shares was all the greater because the scandal derailed moves by the Murdochs to take full control of a company that is much more profitable than their newspapers.
Father and son were hauled before Leveson's inquiry just last week to give three days of evidence, and James' departure as chairman of the broadcaster was widely seen as a damage-limitation measure ahead of this week's publication of a damning report by members of parliament.
On Tuesday, lawmakers found Rupert Murdoch unfit to run a major international company and accused News Corp of showing "wilful blindness" about the scale of hacking at the News of the World tabloid.
Despite all the negative headlines, analysts expect the company to report higher third quarter earnings at 0700 a.m. British time on Wednesday.
Operating profit in the first nine months of its business year is expected to be 14 percent higher than a year earlier at 902 million pounds on the back of a 5 percent rise in revenue to just under 5.1 billion pounds.
"We expect BSkyB to deliver reassuring results over the coming quarters, with scope for further cash returns," UBS analyst Polo Tang wrote in a note to clients.
Tang has a "neutral" rating on BSkyB shares pending an auction of English Premier League soccer broadcast rights where competition is expected to be fierce, driving up prices.
Reuters reported last week that BSkyB, which has built its British pay-TV business on the back of soccer rights, could face a costly challenge from Qatari group Al Jazeera when the rights are renewed this summer.
The most closely watched number on Wednesday is expected to be subscriber figures. These are likely to show that BSkyB added a total of 71,000 new customers in the third quarter to the end of March, according to the average of seven forecasts compiled by the company.