- Associated Press - Thursday, November 10, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Viacom turned the success of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” into a pile of money in its latest quarter, as earnings tripled and revenue grew 22 percent.

Viacom, the owner of Paramount Pictures, MTV and Comedy Central, on Thursday said earned $576 million, or $1 per share in the July to September quarter. That’s triple the $189 million, or 31 cents per share, it earned in the same period last year, when results were still weighed down by Harmonix, the money-losing division that made the “Rock Band” video game. Viacom sold the unit later last year.

Excluding special items, adjusted earnings were $1.06 cents per share in the latest quarter, Viacom’s fiscal fourth. That was 3 cents above the average analyst estimate as polled by FactSet.

Viacom’s revenue rose 22 percent to $4.05 billion from $3.33 billion. Analysts polled by FactSet were been expecting $3.75 billion.

The Paramount Pictures studio was the star of the quarter, with revenue up 46 percent to $1.8 billion. Viacom’s TV networks saw revenue rise 8 percent, to $2.3 billion, driven by increases in advertising and fees paid by cable and satellite-TV companies.

Viacom’s board said it’s expanding its stock buyback program to $10 billion from $4 billion, “demonstrating our confidence in Viacom’s long-term outlook.” The company has bought back shares worth $2.5 billion so far in 2011.

Class B shares of the New York company rose 3.31 cents to close at $43.61 Thursday.

Paramount released “Transformers” in June and it blossomed into the studio’s first film to gross $1 billion at the box office. It was the fourth-highest grossing movie of all time.

Then, just ahead of Halloween, the studio released “Paranormal Activity 3.” It had the best opening for a U.S. horror movie so far, and has pulled in $95 million in three weeks.

“The studio’s success has affirmed our strategy of a reduced release slate, a focus on franchises and the leveraging of Viacom brands,” said Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman.

On the TV side, Dauman said the company is trying to deal with an “inexplicable” drop in Nickelodeon’s viewer ratings, as measured by Nielsen Co. It started in mid-September. Viacom is talking to Nielsen to try to figure out what’s behind the reported decline, and Dauman said independent data from cable set-top boxes don’t show the same trend.

For the full fiscal year, net income was $2.14 billion, or $3.59 per share. That was up 38 percent from $1.55 billion, or $2.54 per share, in the previous year. Revenue rose 12 percent to $14.9 billion.

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