Paramount will continue to ride movie franchises Mission Impossible, Star Trek, GI Joe, and World War Z and roll out animated films for SpongeBob SquarePants and Monster Trucks, the company told analysts this morning as execs offered a rosy picture of Viacom’s growth prospects. CEO Philippe Dauman also crowed about the attention that Miley Cyrus’ sexually charged dancing brought to MTV’s Video Music Awards in August, calling it a “moment that is still reverberating across the pop culture landscape.” But some investors likely will be more concerned about the company’s acknowledgement that the original programming planned for its pay TV networks will drive costs up by a high single digit rate in 2014. “Original programming gives us the ability to build our brand better,” Dauman says. “It creates a lot of value for us.” In addition, Viacom says that its stock repurchases — which accelerated to $2.7B in the September quarter — will come closer to $850M in the three months ending in December.
That appears to have cooled some investor enthusiasm for Viacom, whose shares have appreciated about 71% over the last 12 months to yesterday’s close of $83.13. B. Riley Research’s David Miller says this morning that he’s sticking with his $85 price target, and “given that level is a mere 2.2% away, we are maintaining a Neutral rating.” Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger, one of Viacom’s most outspoken critics, says that while the company has performed well lately, he’s “highly skeptical of the business trajectory going forward.”
Execs, of course, were more upbeat. Paramount has “a particularly strong line-up this year, so we feel we have a solid year coming up,” Dauman says. He didn’t want to provide much detail about the decision this year to shift the streaming rights for TV programs to Amazon from Netflix, but says it’s paying off. Amazon’s “a great branding environment,” and helps to generate sales of show-related merchandise. The CEO also says he likes what he sees from the mobile apps for Nickelodeon and other networks, now supported by 10 distributors with more to come. Viacom produces original short form videos for them, and feeds some of its existing content. “It’s going to be a big change-maker in the future” by giving the company and its advertisers insights into users’ tastes.