A lot of investors are asking the question today after BTIG’s Brandon Ross circulated a report noting that the Dutch media tycoon’s investment vehicle, Talpa Beheer, recently bought 6% of World Wrestling Entertainment. John de Mol proved his eye for hit TV when he developed shows including Big Brother, Fear Factor, and The Voice.
The report contributed to an 8.8% jump in WWE’s stock price today — and helped it to touch a 52-week high of $22.05. The company’s shares are up 32% over the last five trading days, especially following its better-than-expected Q2 earnings report.
“Perhaps de Mol just saw the same risk/reward in WWE shares that we do,” says Ross. But “his expertise and interests lead us to other questions” about a possible alliance.
In March, de Mol sold his Netherlands-based production company Talpa Media B.V to UK’s ITV for $530 million. That could rise to $1.17 billion if he stays on board for eight years and Talpa hits its profit growth targets.
Adding to the intrigue: John Malone’s Liberty Global just increased its ownership stake in ITV to 9.9% from 6.4%. That has contributed to speculation that Malone might try to buy ITV.
WWE seems to be right in de Mol’s wheelhouse. He’s “interested in content that travels globally,” Ross says. “All of the format television he has created has been meant to work on a worldwide basis.” WWE generates more than 20% of its revenue outside the U.S. and its WWE Network online service “is growing faster internationally than in the U.S.”
The disclosures come as Wall Street takes a fresh look at WWE. Many have been skeptical about the company’s prospects, fearing that its $9.99 a month streaming service — which offers its most popular events — would cannibalize the company’s lucrative TV and pay per view businesses.
But investors were pleasantly surprised last week when WWE reported that it ended Q2 with 1.16 million global subscribers and predicted a rise to “approximately 1.2 million” subs at the end of Q3.
That was “meaningfully better than we expected, shuttering some of our previous concerns over near term subscriber momentum,” Benchmark analyst Mike Hickey said.
Bears thought WWE Network would see mass defections from the 1.3 million subs it had for the annual WrestleMania event, on March 29. Fans who didn’t have the online service had to pay about $70 to watch it on pay-per-view.