Public companies have a particular cadence to their shareholder-oriented existence. Every quarter, they must report financial results and, except in rare cases, most also face the Wall Street music on conference calls with analysts.
That ritual, which is revving up again for the spring season, can mean less-than-ideal timing for press-weary (and -wary) execs. The week ahead offers a full slate of such moments for media and tech companies who have been making a lot of news of late. What will Viacom say about the state of its business as talks continue with CBS? Will Facebook elaborate any further on its data stumbles? What tales will the numbers and comments tell for AT&T and Time Warner given their pending marriage? Will Comcast initiate a bidding war for Sky?
Those are just a few of the looming questions as earnings season kicks into gear. The spring cycle, which happens to coincide with an already hectic corridor for the industry, will run through mid-May. After Netflix set a high bar with its dazzling quarterly kickoff last Monday, Wall Street will now focus on traditional media companies and tech giants. Here’s a day-by-day breakdown of who’s reporting when:
Monday, April 23: Alphabet. Alphabet doesn’t usually dwell too much on its YouTube division. Still, the video giant’s latest advertising glitch, which led major brands like UnderArmor to pause their buys pending assurances that spots won’t appear next to objectionable videos, may be something that analysts pursue. The company also is still absorbing the shooting on the YouTube campus at the start of the month — not the usual stuff of earnings calls but another current running through the news stream.
Tuesday, April 24: Verizon. As a wireless company, Verizon generates plenty of material in its quarterly report that does not tend to make media hearts beat faster. Even so, the company was recently formally identified as a bidder for 21st Century Fox studio assets and reportedly has taken a closer look at Lionsgate, CBS, Viacom and Sony. Once the outcome of the Department of Justice v. AT&T is known, Verizon is widely seen as likely to make some bold moves, so the industry is keen to understand its latest view of entertainment.
Wednesday, April 25: Comcast, Viacom, AT&T and Facebook. It will be hard for Facebook to top the amount of public display of the past few weeks, when founder Mark Zuckerberg embarked on an apology media tour and testified on Capitol Hill about the social network’s data practices. But the quarterly report may offer a window onto how the Cambridge Analytica scandal is filtering through the business.
With Viacom, recent quarterly calls held by it and CBS have included disclaimers that they won’t address ongoing merger talks. Still, every tea leaf will still be read closely given the blizzard of reports about bumps in the initial discussions and stark disagreements over management teams and the state of the Viacom turnaround effort under Bob Bakish.
AT&T also has done some high-profile talking lately, with CEO Randall Stephenson and entertainment chief John Stankey both testifying in the DOJ trial last week. Still, while the mobile behemoth is not likely to go on at length about the 18-month deal saga, there will be plenty of fodder for analysts. One such development was the company’s introduction (by Stephenson, on the witness stand in Washington) of a stripped-down basic TV bundle.
The company’s report with the most at stake for Hollywood, arguably, is Comcast, which will be holding its first quarterly call since the disclosure of 21st Century Fox’s spurning of its bid for studio assets despite the fact it was 16% richer than Disney’s. Comcast also since the last call in January has announced its intention to put forward a rival bid for pay-TV giant Sky, with most observers predicting an all-out bidding war. So expect plenty of discussion on both fronts, not to mention some commentary about interesting moves by NBCUniversal on the advertising side heading into upfronts.
Thursday, April 26: Time Warner and Amazon. For the last few quarters, Time Warner has skipped the usual quarterly conference call, citing its pending $85 billion merger with AT&T. But investors got a blast of CEO Jeff Bewkes’ perspective on the media business when the 39-year company vet testified in U.S. District Court in the government’s lawsuit trying to block the deal. And Wall Street has been bidding up the company’s stock 5% year to date based on continued strong performance and a sense that the government will not prevail in its lawsuit. So the quarterly numbers will speak volumes even if executives won’t.
Amazon is unlikely to countenance recent broadsides by President Donald Trump during its call. The rare disclosure last week about the company’s Prime service having surpassed 100 million members begs many questions about Prime Video, whose strategic direction remains something of a parlor game in Hollywood. When the parent company is buying Whole Foods, testing drones and building distribution hubs in Scandinavia, it can be hard to glean what its Hollywood goals are from this quarterly snapshot. But that won’t stop a lot of people from trying.
Friday, April 27: Sony and Charter. Compared with the aforementioned outfits, these two have been a notch or two quieter, though Sony’s entertainment assets have been the subject of frequent rumors amid the current M&A wave. Charter, the No. 2 U.S. cable operator, often has its wonky fingerprints on a lot of deals that shape the industry. So, while CEO Tom Rutledge tends to play things close to the vest, as a bellwether in TV and broadband distribution with crafty billionaire John Malone as its biggest shareholder, Charter is definitely a company to keep on the dashboard.