Should you buy the blue-chip shares of News Corp?

The way in which we consume media has changed rapidly in the last decade. Traditional print media is starting to become a thing of the past, with several well-known magazines closing. Elsewhere on-demand entertainment such as Netflix, or Stan (a joint venture by Fairfax Media Limited (ASX: FXJ) and Nine Entertainment Co Holdings Ltd (ASX: NEC)) are changing the way we watch television.

One company that stood at the centre of the media world for decades was the mighty News Corp (ASX: NWS). The question now is will it be able to adapt and be centre stage in another decade?

The management team at News Corp have certainly not rested on their laurels, and have been busy attempting to diversify its business in order to remain relevant today. But has it been enough?

In its most recent quarter News Corp reported a decline in revenue of 4% to $2.16 billion, compared to $2.26 billion in the prior year. If you were to exclude the impact of currency fluctuations, revenues would have increased by 2%.

This drop in revenue is largely down to the fact that the company only really has one successful segment at the moment; its Digital Real Estate Services segment, which includes REA Group Limited (ASX: REA). The Digital Real Estate Services segment increased revenue by 50% to $399 million in its first half of the financial year. Without this the whole earnings release would have made for sombre reading.

For the half year the News and Information Services segment, its largest segment, is down by almost $300 million, to $2.69 billion. Book publishing is down 2% to $855 million, and Cable Network Programming is down 8% to $230 million.

Looking deeper into the numbers reveals that the drop in revenue comes from a large drop in advertising revenue. For the first half of the year advertising is down 5% on last year, which to me shows just how much of an impact companies such as Google and Facebook are having on the business.

Let’s be honest, when it comes to targeted advertising Google and Facebook can provide advertisers with it all. No matter how niche the target market, advertisers can reach them. Whereas with News Corp, unfortunately it is better suited to more broad-based advertising. I feel there will always be a market for this type of advertising, but I suspect there could still be significant declines in its advertising revenue for some years to come.

I believe the way forward for the company now is to expand its real estate offering. A recent acquisition of iProperty Group Ltd (ASX: IPP) by REA Group Limited (ASX: REA) is a positive step forward.

Due to it having two thirds of its revenue coming from the United States (45%) and Europe (23%), News Corp will continue to benefit from the low Australian dollar for a while to come. This will be helpful for the company, masking the decline in advertising somewhat, and allowing the company to report strong earnings growth.

I feel the company will almost certainly be around in a decade. By that time, though, it may look more like a real estate company, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Foolish takeaway

The shares have been sold down considerably in the last 12 months, shedding around 27.5% of their value. Whilst I am not too confident in the long-term future for the company, the weak Australian dollar should allow them to continue to report reasonably strong earnings growth. This is likely to help the shares retrace some of the losses they have made. When the Australian dollar one day strengthens against the US dollar, earnings could really start to suffer so approach with caution.

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Motley Fool contributor James Mickleboro has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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