Hey, Hollywood, don’t get suckered by this week’s earnings reports of doom and gloom at the Big Media companies. In fact, the entertainment sides of some of these companies are doing — dare I say it — better. Now why this isn’t translating into more projects, and more jobs, is the fault of all the newly Nervous Nellies (who used to be Macho Moguls) atop the entertainment units. But there are definitely green shoots in the earnings reports.
Take Time Warner, where profits slid 34%. But the cable and Pay TV networks’ revenue rose by 5%, thanks to Turner Broadcasting and HBO (where subscription revenue rose 8%). Sure, publishing and AOL still stink. (And TW topper Jeff Bewkes reminded analysts that AOL will be spun off to shareholders before the end of 2009.) True, the film unit revenue declined 9% because of the usual “soft DVD sales” mantra. But film profit led by The Hangover surged 52% because of lower overhead and marketing costs.
However, it’s ridiculous that Bewkes has restarted Time Warner’s stock buyback program this quarter when now is exactly the moment Time Warner should be aggressively pursuing mergers and acquisitions. After all, so many mediacentric stock plays will never be this cheap. Bewkes has indicated before he wants to kick the tires of lots of companies. That’s how he should spend every penny of that Time Warner Cable bankroll.
DreamWorks Animation beat The Street even though the company didn’t release any movies in its 2nd-quarter where revenue and profit dipped 7% But sales exceeded Wall Street estimates because of a reworked video game agreement with Activision Blizzard that boosted revenue. We all know that CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg plans to increase DA’s film production by adding live shows and producing TV series to expand the company which still has only irregular revenues based on its small product output. But get this: Katzenberg in a conference call with analysts predicted DreamWorks Animation will have “the biggest year in the history of the company” in 2010. That’s because the company is releasing three toons next year (as opposed to just one in 2009, Monsters v Aliens, which didn’t perform overseas to Katzenberg’s consternation, prompting him to shore up foreign marketing and distribution before 2010). The films are How To Train Your Dragon in March, yet another Shrek sequel in May, and Oobermind in November. Next year, too, DA will ramp up its TV production, adding to the Nickelodeon hit Penguins Of Madagascar with series spinoffs of Kung Fu Panda and Monsters v. Aliens.
Katzenberg also fired a warning shot aimed at Paramount’s bow with the news that he’ll seek to lower the 8% distribution fee DA currently pays the Viacom film studio under a contract through 2012. Jeffrey can say all he wants it’s no longer a competitive rate, but Paramount will certainly push back.
And, speaking of Paramount, parent company Viacom earnings stumbled by 32%. But there, too, was a glimmer of hope as advertising at its media networks recovered 3 points compared to last quarter. While foreign ad sales tanked (-8%), domestic ad sales at MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, BET, Comedy Central, etc dropped 6% compared to last year. Media networks saw total revenue declined 8%. But execs think the creative changes (hirings and firings) have put the TV side on the right track.
The year-to-year figures for filmed entertainment look bad, but that’s because in 2008 Paramount had Iron Man and Indiana Jones 4 while in 2009 Paramount could include Star Trek but only the first 7 days of mega-hit Transformers 2. When the rest of Michael Bay’s blockbuster, and G.I. Joe (if it does business, and that’s a big “if” in Hollywood’s view) shows up in next quarter’s earnings, that may be a very different story. So filmed entertainment revenue at Paramount fell an ugly 22% on lower theatrical and home entertainment sales. Again, Viacom cited weak DVD sales.