Discovery CEO Promises Wall Street He’ll Deliver 3 Years Of Profit Growth

Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav went out on a limb this morning at his company’s first Investor Day meeting: For the first time he offered three-year financial guidance, and committed to delivering low double digit annual growth in free cash flow and adjusted per share earnings through 2018.

He also vowed that U.S. won’t be a drag on what Zaslav says has evolved into a global media power in 225 countries.

“For the next three years, based on even our worst case scenario, we will show growth in the U.S.,” he told analysts. Ad sales will grow by mid-single digits this quarter, Zaslav says.

He’s optimistic even if domestic ad sales decline by as much as 2% over the next few years. Half of Discovery’s revenues from cable and satellite fees are “locked in” with deals guaranteeing high single digit annual increases, he says.

All told, Discovery could generate $10 billion in free cash over the next five years that the CEO says will go toward organic growth, mergers and acquisitions, and to repurchase stock.

The financial forecasts could be important: Wall Street wonders whether Discovery has plateaued in the U.S., and its cash will be eaten up by increased spending to buy programming and overseas properties. The company’s share price has declined 28.8% over the last 12 months.

Discovery shares are up 2.2% in pre-market trading after the financial forecasts.

But Zaslav says that Discovery’s overseas expansion efforts will pay off. “No other company has 10 channels in 225 countries,” he says. “We are not a domestic media company. We are a global media company.”

That affects programming choices. The company looks for content that appeals to audiences in multiple countries “because it’s so efficient and effective.”

The CEO also boasted that Discovery owns its content. As the media industry adjusts to growing competition “this is not the time to be saddled with five and 10 year costs” from long term syndication deals and sports rights.

Even so, he says that the company “leaned hard into sports” with its acquisition of EuroSport, giving it what he says is “must have” content. “Very quietly we’ve become the leader in sports in Europe” and “we’re just getting started.”

As part of his sales pitch, Zaslav says Discovery has become “the leader in 4K content around the world…We have spent the last two years building a 4K library because we saw it coming.” He’s also enthusiastic about virtual reality. It’s “going to be a huge opportunity for us…This is not a primitive technology.”

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