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ESPN, Stations Boost Disney Bottom Line

The Walt Disney Co.'s revenues for first-quarter 2005 (ended Dec. 31, 2004) were up 1% to $8.6 billion, thanks in part to cable contributions and owned-TV-station performance.

Disney predicted double-digit growth for 2005, including on ratings increases at ABC thanks to hits such as Desperate Housewives and Lost, but the network was still a drag on 1Q income.

A hefty downturn in theatricals and DVD revenues (compared to a gangbuster 1Q 2004 with the release of Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean) was offset by the strength of the Media Networks group and an upturn at parks and resorts.

Media Network revenues were up 11% to $3.5 billion and operating income was up 36% to $467 million. Of that, cable income was up $131 million thanks to affiliate fee boosts and ad rate hikes at ESPN as well as ratings boosts for ABC Family.

Broadcast operating income was down $8 million, due to decreases at ABC TV Network. It would have been more than $8 million without an increase in income from the TV stations, due primarily to political ads. Increased ad revenues from NFL and college football were not enough to offset increased programming costs, said the company..