Viacom Ended “Challenging Year” With Revenues Below Analyst Expectations

Here’s one piece of good news in Viacom’s otherwise dreary financial report for the December quarter, released this morning: U.S. ad sales only declined 4% — an improvement from -7% in the September quarter and better than the -6% that some analysts expected.

But CEO Philippe Dauman no doubt is glad to close the books on what he calls “a challenging year operationally” for the owner of MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, and Paramount Pictures.

The company just reported fiscal Q1 net earnings of $449 million, down 10.2% vs the period at the end of 2014, on revenues of $3.15 billion, down 5.7%. Analysts expected the top line to hit $3.26 billion. But adjusted earnings at $1.18 per share matched the Street’s consensus forecast.

“2015 was a challenging year operationally as we redesigned ourselves and adapted to significant industry disruption,” Dauman says. “Our first fiscal quarter of 2016 reflected these challenges. However, our revitalized organization and our investments in content, technology and strategic innovation are now beginning to bear fruit. Although our industry continues to face headwinds, we expect our positive momentum to continue and build throughout the year.”

At the main Media Networks business, operating income fell 4% to $1.06 billion on revenues of $2.57 billion, down 3%. The company attributes 1 percentage point of that decline to the weakening of overseas currencies vs the U.S. dollar.

Three months ago Dauman told analysts to expect “continuing improvement in domestic ad sales” in the quarter, and -4% made good on that vow even though it doesn’t come with bragging rights. The company says that its “pricing increases were more than offset by a decline in traditional ratings at some of our networks.” Meanwhile, domestic payments from cable, satellite and streaming companies were “substantially flat.”

International ad sales fell 2%, but would have been up 6% without the currency imbalances. Affiliate payments also were down 6%, but would have been up 3% without the currency considerations.

Paramount Pictures also had little to cheer in the quarter with an operating loss of $146 million, 143% bigger that the loss in the previous year, on revenues of $612 million, down 15%. Worldwide theatrical sales fell by $75 million as the slate led by Daddy’s Home and The Big Short couldn’t match the end of 2014 which had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Interstellar. Home entertainment sales fell $77 million vs last year which included Transformers: Age of Extinction. But license fees improved 25% to $237 million as the studio boosted sales to subscription VOD and TV distributors.

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