By the end of this week we’ll know how nearly all of the Big Media companies performed in Q4. But Nomura Securities’ Michael Nathanson already has some qualms about the industry based on the ones that have reported so far –Disney, News Corp., Scripps Networks, Time Warner, and Viacom — even though most exceeded the Street’s profit expectations. Some of the good news came from filmed entertainment profits. Nathanson doesn’t like to base his forecasts on movie and TV shows, though, because there are too many quirks in Hollywood accounting. “After backing out the ever-volatile film business,” he says, “results were less inspiring.” The companies beat forecasts because they “did a remarkable (and unsustainable) job in reining in operating expenses” especially at their biggest profit drivers: pay TV networks. The problem is that some costs were held down by developments largely outside of the companies’ control. For example, the NBA work stoppage resulted in lower outlays for Time Warner, Disney, and News Corp. Meanwhile, the underlying business isn’t likely to surprise investors. Advertising is only doing so-so: Sales for the five companies rose an average of 1.8% vs the last three months of 2010; that’s slightly less than Nathanson had predicted. Current stock prices also already factor in the companies’ plans to keep raising the fees that cable and satellite companies pay for the channels. It’ll also be hard to wow investors with announcements about stock repurchases. The buybacks “are now fully modeled by us.” The bottom line: The analyst is neutral on media stocks generally. He has a “buy” on Disney and News Corp due to their potential to muscle pay TV providers into paying higher fees, and on Viacom due to its low stock price relative to its peers.
Analyst: Big Media Companies Only Did So-So in Q4, Despite Their Surprising Profits
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