ViacomCBS Stock Plunges After 4Q Results, Analysts’ Call

viacomcbs, earnings, merger
ViacomCBS reports first earnings as a combined company. ViacomCBS

UPDATED with stock drop:

Viacom share have plunged after quarterly numbers and a call with analysts. The stock is down almost 15% in morning trade to $29.99. Wall Street clearly wasn’t comfortable all that comfortable with the elements of a turnaround outlined by CEO Bob Bakish. He had asked the street to disregard fourth quarter numbers, including the swing to a loss, as a transitional period that didn’t reflect the strengths of the two companies together.

ViacomCBS saw revenue dip and swung to red for the last three months of 2019, which CEO Bob Bakish called a “transitional” fourth quarter that is the first for the company since it merged in December.

It reported a net loss from continuing operations of $273 million – or 44 cents a share, from a profit of $884 million or $1.43 in the 2018 fourth quarter when Viacom and CBS were separate companies. Revenue dipped 3% to a combined $6.9 billion.

The company said merger-related expenses and various operating items weighed on the numbers but are expected to be mitigated through the benefits of the combination.

It is moving quickly on integration, getting teams in place and sees cost savings at $750 million, up from $500 million the company originally anticipated at the time of the merger.

Wall Street and Hollywood are both looking to the numbers – and associated commentary – for insight into the new entity’s direction from streaming strategy to executive appointments to cost cutting initiatives.

The ViacomCBS merger closed in early December and the stock got a lukewarm welcome on Wall Street and has continued to decline although it has its fans,who appreciate the greater scale of the company in a world of entertainment giants.

A disruptive period of scandal, turmoil and lawsuits behind it, the executive ranks have changed. Les Moonves has long gone down in flames. Longtime top CBS executive Joe Ianiello will also exit in March as CEO Bob Bakish brings in George Cheeks, the former vice chairman of NBCUniversal Content Studios. He will head up the CBS Entertainment Group overseeing CBS-branded assets including the television network and stations, sports, news, syndication and digital service CBS All Access.

Showtime CEO David Nevins now also provides creative oversight of CBS assets as CBS chief creative officer and heads of a ViacomCBS content council.

The merged ViacomCBS has a strong content portfolio going for it, including many thousands of premium TV episodes and film titles. It also has a solid of collection of ad-based and subscription streaming services. Flanking CBS All Access are Showtime OTT, Pluto TV, Noggin and BET+. Direct-to-consumer offerings also include and CBSN. Ratings continue to decline in linear broadcast and cable television but combining known brands like MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, CBS and Showtime in one package and multiple platforms gives the company a lot to work with. How it will do that is the question, and much it will all cost.

The company has confirmed it’s planning to roll streaming assets together or expand them somehow into a new service to compete with a crop of emerging rivals in the space from Apple TV to Disney+ to HBO Max and Peacock. It hasn’t announced details yet but executives will discuss plans at a conference call later this morning.

Wall Street is also eager to hear details of the now $750 million in cost savings the company promised to deliver from the merger. Job cuts in overlapping areas like marketing and distribution are likely to be part of the cuts.

Breaking out the numbers by division, revenue at cable networks declined 2% on the continued erosion of linear television subscribers. Financials were squeezed by increased investments in programming and OTT.

Television entertainment – led by CBS – saw fourth-quarter ad sales dipped 5% to $1.7 billion; affiliate fees rose 27% to $682 million; and content licensing revenue dipped  9% to $715 million.

And in filmed entertainment, no surprise, Paramount’s fourth quarter film slate was soft with disappointments including Gemini Man in October and Terminator: Dark Fate in November.

But, on the up side, Paramount appears to have hit gold in the current first quarter with Sonic The Hedgehog, whose U.S. debut marked the studio’s biggest opening since Mission: Impossible – Fallout in the summer of 2018 and the best opening ever for a movie based on a video game. The studio said its upbeat about a Sonic-led rebound leading to a stronger 2020 with a slate that includes Quiet Place Part II, Top Gun: Maverick and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run.

Dexter Fletcher, director of one of the studio’s hits last year, Rocketman, is set to helm a redo of The Saint for the studio.

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