(Reuters) - Media company CBS Corp, owner of the most-watched U.S. television network, reported a quarterly profit that beat Wall Street forecasts on Thursday, though weaker advertising and a decline in television licensing dragged on revenue.
CBS posted adjusted earnings-per-share of 78 cents for the second quarter, beating the average forecast of 71 cents by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Net earnings from continuing operations fell to $418 million from $435 million a year earlier.
The company, which operates the CBS broadcast network and premium cable channel Showtime, also raised its share repurchase program to $6 billion from $3 billion and increased its quarterly dividend to 15 cents per share from 12 cents.
In its earnings report, CBS said this year's absence of the NCAA men's college basketball semifinals and "softness" in the second quarter ad market contributed to lower revenue. Total revenue fell 5.3 percent to $3.19 billion, falling short of the average analyst estimate of $3.24 billion.
CBS, which airs hit shows such as "The Big Bang Theory" and "NCIS," said advertising revenue dropped 7 percent from a year earlier. Revenue from content licensing and distribution declined 9.4 percent, partly due to the timing of international sales, the company said.
CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves said the pace of ad sales was improving "significantly" in the third quarter and he expected the fourth quarter to be even stronger. CBS will benefit, he said, from demand for advertising during its new broadcasts of Thursday night National Football League games this fall and political advertising ahead of the November mid-term elections.
Moonves, speaking to analysts on a conference call, also said more advertisers had agreed to pay for ads viewed within seven days after an episode airs on television, a measurement known as C7, rather than three days. He predicted that more than 75 percent of deals by next year's "upfront" selling season in the spring - when advertising spending is committed in advance of the new television season - would be based on the C7 measurement.
CBS considered the idea of making a bid for the CNN cable news network if it had been sold as part of a Twenty-First Century Fox purchase of Time Warner Inc, Moonves said. The idea is "irrelevant" now that Fox has walked away from its pursuit of Time Warner, he said.
"We are pretty happy with our assets right now, and I doubt we would look to do anything with something like that," Moonves said.
Chief Operating Officer Joseph Ianniello said CBS "will continue to be very disciplined in our approach to M&A."
CBS shares were little changed in extended trading. Before the earnings release, CBS shares closed down 1.3 percent at $56.90 on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Abhirup Roy in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Leslie Adler)