The competition was tough — most media stocks not only appreciated in 2012, they handily beat the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 which was up 13.4%. Comcast led the pack of Big Media conglomerates with shares +57.6%, followed by News Corp (+43.0%), CBS (+40.2%), Disney (+32.8%), Time Warner (+32.4%) and Viacom (+16.1%). Sony was the only member of this group to lose ground, falling 37.9% as it struggles to fix its global TV and electronics sales operations. Within the universe of other companies that we track most closely, the biggest winners were Carmike (+118.7%), Lionsgate (+97.1%), AOL (+96.1%),  Lin TV (+78.0%), and Sirius XM (+58.8%). The losers: Best Buy (-49.3%), Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (-44.3%), Sony, Rovi (-37.2%), and Facebook (-30.0% since it went public in May.).

Movie exhibition chains delivered the biggest returns overall. The SNL Kagan Theater Index was +46.8%. That partly reflects the turnaround at domestic box offices (2012 was up about 6.3% to a record $10.8B following a 3.8% drop in 2011). Striking improvements at Carmike also significantly boosted the average in this relatively small group. It was followed by Cinemark (+40.5%), IMAX (+22.6%), and Regal (+16.8%).

Cable and satellite distribution companies were +42.2% overall, SNL Kagan says. Cable companies could point to growing broadband Internet subscriptions while satellite gained market share in video and improved sales of premium services. After Comcast we see Time Warner Cable (+52.9%), Charter (+33.9%), Dish Network (+27.8%), DirecTV (+17.3%), AT&T (+11.5%), Verizon (+7.9%) and Cablevision (+5.1%).

Cable networks performed more consistently. In an uncertain economy, investors loved their dual revenue streams (ads and subscriber payments) and low exposure to some of the distressed economies in Europe. SNL Kagan’s index for them was +34.3% including big improvements at Discovery (+54.9%), Crown Media (+52.9%), Scripps Networks (+36.5%), and AMC Networks (+31.7%).

Studios followed based on SNL Kagan’s index for them which was +32.4%. But this was like the case of the man whose temperature is about average although his head is in the oven and feet are encased in ice. Lionsgate skewed the results in this small group following its string of movie and TV successes led by The Hunger Games and (after its acquisition in January of Summit Entertainment) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. By contrast, DreamWorks Animation was -0.2% following the disappointing performance of Rise Of The Guardians.

TV Stations came next, +24.0% overall, in a year when the industry saw windfalls — mostly expected — from ads tied to the Olympics and political campaigns, as well as a resurgence of spending by auto makers. After Lin TV we saw Gray Television (+35.8%), Entercom (+13.5%), and Sinclair (+11.4%).

What about the sexy new media businesses that are angling to take market share from traditional media? They did well, but didn’t dramatically exceed the Street’s expectations: Their stocks were +21.3% overall. AOL was the standout here, helped by consistent revenue growth, and a $1B+ sale of its patents with much of the cash used to repurchase shares. It beat Amazon (+44.9%), Netflix (+33.6%), Apple (+31.4%), Yahoo (+23.4%), Google (+9.5%), and Microsoft (+2.9%).