The Associated Press

BETHPAGE, N.Y. (AP) -Cablevision Systems Corp. said Thursday that its board has approved a plan to spin off as a separate company its Madison Square Garden business, owner of the New York Knicks, Rangers and the famed sports arena where they play.

In a widely anticipated move, the Bethpage, N.Y. company said it plans to spin off the unit to its existing shareholders by the end of the year.

The diversified cable operator also reported an 8 percent drop in second-quarter earnings despite climbing revenue.

Cablevision said it earned $87 million, or 29 cents per share, in the most recent quarter, compared with $94.7 million, or 32 cents per share a year ago. Sales rose 9.8 percent to $1.88 billion.

Results were roughly in line with analysts' expectations, according to Thomson Reuters.

The company said the separation of its Madison Square Garden operations is expected to make it easier for investors because each company will now have distinct businesses. Without a spin-off or sale, cable investors buying shares of Cablevision have little choice but to contend with its entertainment businesses.

Cablevision said James Dolan, its chief executive, also will take on the role of executive chairman of the spun-off Madison Square Garden group. Hank Ratner, Cablevision's vice chairman, will add the titles of president and CEO of the new company.

Cablevision said it is not considering a sale of Madison Square Garden or any of its businesses, as well as any other operations of the cable operator.