BSkyB has staunchly defended its right to a broadcast licence following a stinging attack on its majority shareholder News Corporation yesterday.

The pay-TV giant said it “continues to believe it is fit and proper licence holder” after reporting a 25% surge in operating profit to £939m for the nine months to 31 March 2012.

BSkyB confirmed it was co-operating with Ofcom as the media regulator gathers evidence for its so-called Project Apple investigation. This will establish if News Corporation, which holds a 39.1% stake in BSkyB, is responsible enough to own a UK broadcaster.

“The company … continues to believe that it remains a fit and proper licence holder, as demonstrated by its positive contribution to UK audiences, employment and the broader economy, as well as its strong record of regulatory compliance and high standards of governance,” BSkyB said.

During a media and analyst conference call this morning, chief executive Jeremy Darroch emphasised that BSkyB and News Corporation are “separate companies” and the broadcaster’s “track record” should be “the most important factor in determining our fitness”.

He added: “The evidence shows that Sky serves UK audiences and customers well. We’re proud of our contribution, which I think is second to none.”

It follows a report by the Commons culture select committee on Tuesday, which described Rupert Murdoch as “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company” after he displayed “wilful ignorance” of phone hacking at News International.

BSkyB’s financials showed little effect from the on-going scandal surrounding News Corporation as its revenues climbed from £4.83bn in the nine months to the end of March last year, to £5.1bn over the same period in 2012.

Its adjusted operating profit increased from £752m to £939m, which was fuelled by the £31m break fee News Corporation paid after it dropped its bid to take full control of BSkyB in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal. Pre-tax profits rose 27% to £899m.

The broadcaster added 15,000 new TV subscribers in the first quarter and 63,000 broadband customers. This took its total customer base to 10.55m - 281,000 of which are purely broadband users.

BSkyB’s total number of HD customers climbed by 159,000 to 4.2 million, while its average revenue per user increased from £537 to £546 year-on-year.

The churn rate, which is the proportion of customers who left Sky during the period, was 10.1% - down from 10.4% at the same time last year.

The company registered a 4% fall in advertising revenue to £334 million as a result of the “lower overall” TV ad market and higher payments to third party pay channels that have experienced an uplift in ratings.

Its programming costs across its portfolio of channels increased 5% to £1.7bn in the first quarter.

More than half the growth was the result of Sky Atlantic’s first full nine months in operation and the company’s overall commitment to spend £600m on content over three years.

“In what remains a tough economic environment, strong and consistent execution of our plan has delivered good growth across our product range,” said Darroch.

Key figures

Nine months to March 2012

  • Operating profit: £939m
  • Pre-tax profits: £899m
  • Revenues: £4.83bn
  • TV/broadband subscribers: 10.55m
  • HD subscribers: 4.2m
  • Av. revenue per user: £546
  • Churn: 10.1%
  • Ad revenue: £334m
  • Programming costs: £1.7bn

This story was originally published by Broadcast.