Investors seem to think so as ratings improve at key networks led by Nickelodeon and MTV. Viacom shares — which closed Friday at $57.78 — are up 7.8% so far in 2013, and about 20% over the last six months. But analysts are divided about when the company might benefit from the upturn, and how significant it could be. Macquarie Equities Research’s Tim Nollen became more optimistic this morning as he raised his price target to $62 from $47 ahead of January 31, when the entertainment company releases its earnings results for the last three months of 2012. Solid performances by shows including iCarly and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helped Nickelodeon beat Disney Channel in total-day viewers for 16 of the last 17 weeks, he notes — and Nick’s performance will look especially impressive in February when compared to last year when its ratings were down 30%. Although MTV’s ratings are still down by double-digit percentages, if that changes with shows including Snooki & JWOWW and Buckwild then it “would ease concerns that we and others have had about Viacom’s ability to replenish content,” Nollen says. Janney Capital Markets’ Tony Wible also cited the ratings last week when he upped Viacom to “buy” from “neutral” with a $65 target price. In addition, he’s upbeat about “a more promising Paramount slate, and a lean expense structure.”
RBC Capital Markets’ David Bank is a little warier this morning, sticking by his $64 price target. The improvement in ratings probably won’t translate into a significant bump in ad sales until the second half of this year. Indeed, he lowered his estimate for Media Networks advertising and ancillary revenues for the year-end quarter noting that toy makers held back in their holiday ad buys and sales of TV shows on DVD “continues to struggle.” Last week UBS Investment Research’s John Janedis reiterated his $51 price target noting that while ratings are improving “they are still not where they need to be for sustainable/industry-like ad growth.” He and the other analysts also note that the anemic performance of DreamWorks Animation’s Rise Of The Guardians will result in disappointing film distribution revenues for Viacom.