Time Warner kicked off a broad retreat from pay TV network stocks this morning after it cut its earnings forecast citing new investments, and short term concerns about subscriber losses.
Its shares are down 8.1% in late morning trading followed by Viacom (-5.7%), Fox (-5.5%), AMC Networks (-4.6%), Discovery (-3.7%), and Scripps Networks (-3.3%). Disney, which reports its September quarter earnings tomorrow, is down 2.4%.
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes rattled the market in a conference call to discuss Q3 earnings. He said he now expects next year’s adjusted earnings to reach about $5.25 per share — down from the company’s earlier forecast of around $6. Execs also don’t expect to exceed $8 in 2018.
It’s time to “push on the accelerator” as the media business adapts to changes in pay TV, he said. As a result, “our primary focus will be on long-term competitiveness and growth as opposed to short term financial targets.”
Some of the earnings revision reflects Time Warner’s recognition that the strong dollar will continue to hurt overseas sales; it accounts for 50 cents in the change in the company’s earnings forecast.
CFO Howard Averill also says that its entertainment networks have “declined to a greater degree” than expected — which will affect advertising. Subscriptions declined about 1% this year, more than the company expected, and that “will continue in 2016.”
Turner chief John Martin says that he doesn’t expect the drop in subscriptions to accelerate.
But strategic changes led by higher spending to produce and deliver content “could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars,” the CFO says.
Bewkes wants to invest in the digital infrastructure to change a “viewing experience [that] is stuck in the Bronze Age.”
The CEO also vowed to “retain our rights for a longer period of time and forego or delay” sales to streaming services such as Netflix. “Hopefully you’ll hear a very confident position…These moves are very important to secure long term growth and we think it’s going to work.”
Many analysts, and media executives, have concluded that traditional content companies effectively shot themselves in the foot by syndicating shows to streaming services that pull consumers away from the industry’s cash cows: pay TV subscriptions and advertising.
Also on the call, Martin called truTV’s recent vow to cut its prime time ad load in half next year “an interesting experiment.” By running fewer commercials, possibly for a higher price, “we don’t anticipate it will have any revenue impact” on the network.
In response to a question, he also said that Turner would want to be part of the conversation with the NFL “if and when” its Thursday Night Football deal with CBS is up for grabs. “It’s something we would look at” although he vowed to “remain fiscally responsible.”