NASPERS, Africa's largest media company, expects earnings to be flat over the next 12 months as it continues to invest substantially in developing its extensive global portfolio of e-commerce businesses and its pay-TV assets.

Naspers CEO Koos Bekker, in announcing financial results for the 12 months to March yesterday, said the group had spent millions of rands acquiring e-commerce businesses and that the focus would be to build them into profit-generating operations.

Naspers's focus on growing its internet assets comes as its e-commerce investments in China's Tencent and Russia's Mail.ru continued to be the strongest drivers of revenue growth (up 59%) for the company, which boosted overall consolidated revenue by 19% to R39,5bn.

Pretax profit declined 29% to R5,5bn. An investment bank analyst said the company's development spending of more than R2bn in acquiring new internet businesses over the past 12 months had caused the decline.

Mr Bekker said, however, that it was vital for long-term growth.

"Three years ago we had very little e-commerce business so we couldn't really spend. Now we have a few attractive assets so we want to build them," he said.

"We will now focus on e-commerce businesses outside of China and Russia."

Naspers's pay-TV business, which represented its largest revenue stream, grew 15% to R24,1bn, while trading profit grew 11% to R6,3bn. The growth came on 18% growth in subscribers.

Mr Bekker said substantial development spending would happen at pay-TV operations as it focus ed on growing across sub-Saharan Africa with the rollout of digital terrestrial television. And while Naspers's emphasis these days was firmly on the internet and pay-TV, there was some buoyant news in its previously underperforming print sector, which saw revenue rise 12% to R12bn from last year's R10,8bn. Operating profit in this division hovered at about R1bn.

"This was largely due to a strong performance by Paarl Media, which is our printing operation which managed to secure new commercial printing contracts during the year. For the rest there was a very strong focus on saving costs," said Esmare Weideman, CEO of Media24.

The group recorded a marginal trading loss in its technology business that it attributed to its investment in new products to position its technology subsidiary Irdeto to secure internet distributed assets and content.

Shares in Naspers ended the day 1,25% higher at R460,80 yesterday after the news of its revenue and core headline earnings growth.

neethlingt@bdfm.co.za