updated 5/3/2006 11:19:53 AM ET 2006-05-03T15:19:53

Media conglomerate Time Warner Inc. reported Wednesday that its first-quarter profit climbed nearly 60 percent, driven by growth in its cable TV division and gains from the sale of its book group and other assets.

The New York-based company, whose holdings include Warner Bros., the Time Inc. magazine publisher, CNN and HBO, earned $1.46 billion, or 32 cents a share, in the first three months of the year, up from $915 million, or 19 cents per share, in the same period a year ago.

Revenues rose 1 percent to $10.46 billion from $10.36 billion a year ago.

Excluding unusual gains and other one-time effects in both periods as well as the results from its book group, which it has agreed to sell to the French media and defense conglomerate Lagardere SCA, earnings rose 32 percent to $1.2 billion from $908 million in the same period a year ago.

On that basis, earnings per share rose to 26 cents from 19 cents, well ahead of the estimate of the 20 cents expected by analysts polled by Thomson Financial.

The biggest gains among Time Warner’s far-flung properties came in its cable TV division, where operating income rose 25 percent on a 15 percent gain in revenues.

Time Warner Cable added 82,000 basic cable subscribers in the quarter, and the company also reported gains in signing up customers for premium services including digital video, high-speed Internet, digital video recorders and digital phone service.

On a conference call with analysts, CEO Dick Parsons confirmed that Time Warner is in advanced discussions with Liberty Media Corp., a Denver-based company controlled by media magnate John Malone, to buy Liberty’s 50 percent interest in Court TV, which would give Time Warner full ownership of the cable channel.

Parsons also said the company was talking with Liberty about redeeming a major portion of its stake in Time Warner for a combination of cash and some non-strategic assets. Liberty, which owns about 4 percent of Time Warner, has expressed an interest in acquiring the Atlanta Braves, which Time Warner has been looking to sell.

Media analyst Jessica Reif Cohen of Merrill Lynch told investors in a recent note that Time Warner would be able to “substantially increase” earnings at Court TV by folding it into its Turner Networks subsidiary and reduce non-programming costs such as advertising sales. Turner has a large group of cable networks including CNN, TCM and the Cartoon Network.

The gains in cable as well as in TV and movie production and cable networks offset declines at AOL and in magazine publishing.

AOL continued to lose subscribers, shedding 835,000 in the quarter for a total of 18.6 million, as it remakes itself into an advertising-driven Internet company. AOL’s operating income fell 14 percent as declines in subscription revenues more than offset gains in advertising.

Time Inc.’s earnings fell 12 percent in the quarter on weaker results at its overseas magazines as well as $12 million in restructuring charges as it revamped its corporate hierarchy. The sale of Time Warner Book Group, which was announced in February, resulted in a gain of $206 million.

The company also recorded one-time gains in the quarter from the sale of other assets, including a $20 million profit from the sale of two aircraft and gains from investments in a telecom company and Canal Satellite Digital.

Time Warner said it had repurchased $8 billion of its own stock — or 10 percent of its outstanding shares — under its current share buyback program, and expects to complete the full $20 billion buyback by the end of 2007.

Separately, Parsons also told investors on the call that the company was on track to close its purchase, along with Comcast Corp., of the cable assets of Adelphia Communications Corp. by July 31.

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