updated 5/11/2006 9:47:42 AM ET 2006-05-11T13:47:42

Viacom Inc., a media conglomerate that owns MTV, VH1 and Paramount Pictures, reported a 9 percent decline in first quarter earnings Thursday as debt mounted to pay for an acquisition and share buybacks.

Viacom, which separated from CBS Corp. at the beginning of the year, earned $317.2 million, or 43 cents a share, in the three months ending in March versus $350.3 million, or 47 cents per share, in the same period a year ago.

Revenues rose 12 percent to $2.37 billion, of which 8 percent was attributable to the acquisition of DreamWorks LLC, an entertainment company founded by the Hollywood moguls Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

The per-share results came in ahead of the estimate of 39 cents per share that analysts polled by Thomson Financial had been expecting.

On an operating basis, before interest payments, taxes and other factors, earnings rose 3 percent to $623.5 million from a comparable figure of $602.7 million in the same period a year ago.

Despite the higher revenues and operating income, Viacom said its net earnings fell largely due to higher interest payments on higher debt levels and also rising interest rates.

In addition to the DreamWorks deal announced last December, which was worth $1.6 billion in cash and debt, Viacom also bought back $982 million of its own stock in the quarter. Viacom subsequently sold off DreamWorks’ film library. As of March 31, Viacom’s outstanding debt was $7.8 billion.

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