In this week’s podcast, Deadline’s executive editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom catch up on the many highlights from earnings season announcements, beginning with those by possible dance partners Comcast and Time Warner Cable and what their news might mean for Comcast’s takeover bid. They also take the market temperature on Viacom and tech giants led by Google — which sold off its Motorola Mobility unit after owning it just two years — and Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and Amazon. They also look at exhibitors’ demands for shorter movie trailers and whether studios will play along.
Don’t worry, Apple fans. When CEO Tim Cook talks about the new products he plans to introduce this year he isn’t just referring to variations on familiar themes, such as a large-screen iPhone. “We’re working on things that you can’t see today,” he told analysts in a conference call following his company’s latest earnings report. That may be small comfort to investors who are concerned that Apple is losing its mojo. Cook didn’t engage with a question about activist investor Carl Icahn’s campaign to persuade the company to repurchase $50B of its shares this year. “We’ve been buying back stock,” the CEO said, noting that the company returned $100B to shareholders through dividends and stock repurchases. That wasn’t enough to satisfy investors who drove Apple shares down 8% post-market. The main concern appears to be its projection that revenues for the current quarter will come in between $42B and $44B — either down or flat from $43.6B in the period last year. Apple says that its forecast reflects some quirky developments. For example, due to inventory problems in late 2012 some sales were pushed into early 2013, a problem Apple avoided in the latest holiday season. Execs also cited the strengthening dollar vs the Yen and Australian dollar, and the continuing slide in iPod sales. “All of us have known for some time that iPod …
Does that mean the glass is half full? Apparently not to investors trading in the initial moments after Apple reported its results for the quarter that ended in December. Shares are down about 5% post-market after the electronics company reported net income of $13.1B, essentially flat with last year, on revenues of $57.6B, +5.7%. The top-line figure is slightly higher than the $57.4B that analysts expected. Yet earnings at $14.50 a share were well ahead of the $14.08 the Street anticipated. The company says that revenues in the current quarter could hit $44B; bulls had been hoping for something closer to $46B. Investors also might be disappointed in the news that Apple sold 51M iPhones in its fiscal Q1, which it says is an “all-time quarterly record” and up 6.7% vs the period last year. Optimists thought the company would come closer to 56M. Apple also sold 26M iPads (also a record and +13.5%), 4.8M Macs (+17.1%), and 6M iPods (-52.3%). “We love having the most satisfied, loyal and engaged customers, and are continuing to invest heavily in our future to make their experiences with our products and services even better,” CEO Tim Cook says.
Here’s how the latest results look:
The activist investor made his pitch in a letter to fellow shareholders today urging them to support his resolution calling on Apple to increase its share-repurchase plan. “Given that the company has $130 billion of net cash and $40 billion of expected annual earnings, and the fact that it is hard to find a better time in history to borrow money, a $50 billion share repurchase over the course of fiscal year 2014 seems more than reasonable to us,” Carl Icahn writes — calling this “one of the greatest examples of a ‘no brainer’ we have seen in five decades of successful investing.” He adds that he’s an Apple fan, and over the last two weeks bought $1B of its stock, including $500M today, for a total holding worth about $3.6B. One reason for his optimism is his hope that Apple will finally introduce a TV set that will make it easy for users to watch shows from conventional pay TV and the web, and take advantage of the growing interest in 4K, or Ultra HD, screens. “While cable companies will likely be slow to upgrade their linear TV infrastructure due to cost, video content is expected to be accessible through the internet via services like Netflix and others,” Icahn writes. “We believe ultra high definition represents a major catalyst for the next TV replacement cycle and a promising moment for Apple to introduce its first new product in this category.”
The billionaire investor‘s back on the Twitter and CNBC trail today. He said in a tweet this morning that, over the last two weeks, he bought $500M in Apple’s shares, bringing his total to more than $3B. “Since tweeting about our large position in [Apple] on August 13, when the stock was $468 per share, we’ve kept buying shares of this ‘no brainer’,” he said. Shares closed yesterday at $549.07. Still, he put the company on notice that he’s about to release what he calls an “in-depth letter” as part of his campaign to pressure CEO Tim Cook and the board to increase share repurchases. “We feel [Apple's] board is doing great disservice to shareholders by not having markedly increased its buyback,” Icahn says. He filed a shareholder proposal for a vote on the issue at the company’s next annual meeting. “I’m not against the management of this company,” he told Time for a cover story that ran last month. But with $147B “they’ve just got too much money on their balance sheet.” He’ll likely expand on that mid-day when he appears on another of his favorite venues: CNBC. Apple shares are up 1.4% in late morning trading.
Deadline Financial Editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom look ahead to the six big questions facing big media after a big 2013, as potentially huge changes loom in the coming year. What does 2014 hold for Netflix, Apple, cable TV consolidation and the broader pay-TV industry, local broadcasting and theatrical exhibition? Lieberman puts on his fortuneteller hat and looks at what paradigms could be shifting.
One in a series of Deadline stories that look back on 2013 and ahead to 2014.
People in and around the media business may look at 2013 as the calm before the storm. The Dow Jones Media Index, up nearly 39% this year (as of mid-December), is the highest it’s been in at least a decade while stock prices are at or near all-time highs for industry leaders including CBS, Comcast, Discovery Communications, Disney, Netflix, and Viacom. Many execs say that the good times will keep rolling in 2014. Additional ad revenues will pour into the market for the Olympics and mid-term elections, and media companies are making headway in their efforts to adjust to social media and new technologies. But next year moguls may have to work harder than they have in years for their unconscionably high pay. They face a possible return of merger mania, new efforts by tech giants to divert advertising and subscription dollars, and skittish shareholders poised to sell at the first sign that company earnings can’t fulfill their outsized expectations.
Here are a few of the specific questions on the minds of industry insiders as they look ahead to 2014:
Will Netflix tap the brakes on its content spending spree?
Hollywood’s becoming addicted to Netflix’s money. After a few years of license deals it owed creators of its streaming content $6.5B at the end of September, with 43% due in less than a year – and it has vowed to commit nearly $3B in 2014 for TV shows and movies. Those are huge numbers for a company that’s expected to generate $4.4B in revenue this year. Netflix can justify the outlays because it’s growing like Topsy. The number of domestic households that subscribed to the $7.99-a-month service grew 25.8% to nearly 30M in the 12 months ending in September. That fueled a 300+% increase in the stock price in 2013 making Netflix more valuable than Sony in investors’ eyes. “At some point [Netflix] could emerge as a monopolistic player in its [subscription video on demand] niche that would allow it to increase pricing, subs, and leverage in content negotiations,” Janney Capital Markets’ Tony Wible says, summarizing the bull case. But bears warn that Netflix will find itself overextended if sub growth slows, Amazon or Hulu gain momentum, and especially if cable companies aggressively move to a usage-based pricing system for broadband. Producers shouldn’t “assume Netflix and Amazon will bail them out and buy everything they make, forever,” Bernstein Research’s Todd Junger notes. “Eventually somebody has to lose.” With several shareholders urging CEO Reed Hastings to show Hollywood a little less love, studios in 2014 will have their antenna up for any signal that indicates a shift in Netflix’s spending plans.
The activist investor disclosed his effort in a tweet — apparently coordinated with a release from Time magazine promoting its new cover story about him where he discusses his proposal. “I’m not against the management of this company,” he told Time. But with $147B “they’ve just got too much money on their balance sheet.” He adds that CEO Tim Cook “is doing a good job with the business. I think he’s good whether he does what I want or not.” But “Apple is not a bank.” Apple told Time that ”As part of our regular review process, we are once again actively seeking our shareholders’ input on our program, and as we said in October, the management team and our board are engaged in an ongoing discussion about it which is thoughtful and deliberate.” Icahn launched his campaign for an Apple buy-back in August. Today’s news did not immediately affect Apple’s trading price, down less than 1% ahead of the close.
Listen to (and share) Episode 59 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman. Deadline’s financial editor joins host David Bloom and Jonathan Geller of Deadline’s sibling site BGR.com in talking about the mobile business, starting with the fundamental face-off between Apple and Google over mobile business models. They also talk about the prospects for Samsung, Microsoft and BlackBerry; T-Mobile’s radical new approach to the mobile phone business; a new study suggesting more than half of Internet bandwidth is consumed by just two sites, YouTube and Netflix; and the dubious future of next-generation video game consoles as Sony launches the PS4 today and Microsoft debuts the Xbox One in a week.
Separately, the two Davids pick through the most notable news from this week’s media earnings reports, including MGM’s 2012 gifts that keep giving, CBS and Dish Network doing a dance around the Hopper and Viacom’s debt to Miley Cyrus and some zombies.
Apple CEO Tim Cook probably just disappointed a lot of people who’ve been hoping to see his company unveil a new blockbuster product line such as an iWatch or Apple TV set. He teased the possibility in April when he said that “we have a lot more surprises in the works. … We have some really great stuff coming in the fall and across all of 2014.” But he just told analysts during a conference call that he didn’t necessarily mean a new product line. He simply meant new products. And “you’ve seen that,” he says with the recently refreshed line of iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Analysts also have been hoping for a new, low-priced iPhone that could expand Apple’s market share in developing countries.
Cook said he hopes to satisfy those consumers by continuing to offer the iPhone 4s “as the entry offer” versus the pricier new 5c and 5s models. “Some people were reading rumors that the 5c would be our entry phone,” he said. “That was never our intent.” While he doesn’t worry about flagging demand for his iPhones, Apple may find itself with an insufficient supply over the holidays. There’s already a “significant backlog” for the 5s. And it’s “unclear” whether the …
Here’s more proof that the market looks forward. Apple just disclosed earnings for the quarter that ended in September that should delight investors. But shares fell in initial post-market trading based on sales projections for the current quarter that fell short of expectations. In the last quarter Apple generated net income of $7.5B, -8.7% vs last year’s fiscal Q4, on revenues of $37.5B, +4.2%. The top line beat the consensus forecast for $36.8B. Earnings at $8.26 a share also were well ahead of the Street’s prediction of $7.93. But Apple says it expects revenues in the current quarter to come in between $55B and $58B, with a gross margin between 36.5% and 37.5%. That’s pretty much in line with analyst forecasts — but not the hopes of bulls who helped lift the stock price more than 20% over the last three months. As for specific devices, Apple says that it sold 33.8M iPhones in the September quarter (+25.7% vs last year), 14.1M iPads (+0.7%), 4.6M Macs (-6.1%), and 3.5M iPods (-34.5%). CEO Tim Cook applauded Apple’s “strong finish to an amazing year with record fourth quarter revenue” and says he’s “excited to go into the holidays” with refreshed products including the iPhone 5c and 5s, iPad Air, and new MacBook Pros.
Listen to (and share) episode 56 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman. Deadline’s executive business editor talks with host David Bloom about giant pay-TV profit margins, Netflix’s big quarter as it moves past HBO in the United States; Carl Icahn’s latest efforts to turn the heat up on Apple; and Apple’s very interesting series of new hardware and software products and what they might mean for Microsoft.
The activist investor isn’t limited to Twitter and CNBC to broadcast his views. Hot off his $800M windfall this week from the sale of half his Netflix shares, today he introduced a site, Shareholders’ Square Table, where he says he’ll “discuss what can be done to change our current, dysfunctional system of corporate governance” that results in CEOs and boards “that are strangling shareholders and the economy.” His first target is Apple: Icahn published a letter he sent yesterday to CEO Tim Cook repeating a plea for the company to spend $150B to repurchase shares. Over the last month Icahn boosted his Apple stake by 22% to 4.7M shares “reflecting our belief the market continues to dramatically undervalue the company.” He adds that he “could not be more supportive of you, the existing management team, the culture at Apple and the innovative spirit it engenders.” But he’s unhappy with the current pace of buy-backs. “Apple’s Board of Directors does not currently include an individual with a track record as an investment professional,” he says. “In my opinion, any further delay in executing the buyback we hereby propose will reflect this lack of expertise on the board.” If Apple follows his advice, then in three years the share price — which closed yesterday at $524.96 — could appreciate to $1,250. To show that he isn’t in this to make a quick profit, Icahn says that he would “withhold my shares from the proposed $150 Billion tender offer. There is nothing short term about my intentions here.”
Apple‘s share price fell right after CEO Tim Cook closed today’s new product event without a major surprise such as an update to the Apple TV or an iWatch. We’ll see whether investors warm to the gadgets as they digest the details. As expected, the company upgraded its iPad line: The new iPad Air tablet weighs 1 pound (down from 1.4 pounds) and is 7.5 mm thick (down 2 mm). The 16 GB Wi-Fi version with a Retina display will cost $499; a version that handles cell phone connections will cost $629. They’ll have the A7 chip, also in the iPhone 5S and ship beginning November 1. They’ll come in silver, white, black and “space gray.” The company will keep its iPad 2 which will cost $399. As for the iPad Mini, it will have a Retina display and A7 chip and a battery that’s supposed to last 10 hours. It will be available sometime next month for $399. No touch ID — which some expected to see. The original iPad Mini will remain in the line up for $299.
The company is stuffing its zippiest technology into a new, high-end Mac Pro computer that will cost $2,999 and be available by year end. With its ability to handle real-time 4K video editing, “it will change the way I make movies,” director-producer …
Billionaire Julian Robertson, who created Tiger Management Corp, told CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo that Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of the Apple founder changed his view about investing in the company. “How can you create a great organization of people and be that mean a person?…He was really a pretty terrible guy.” Robertson says that Steve Jobs was a “genius,” and concedes that “if he were still there I’d still be in it.” But without him, Robertson says, the company is left with a “bad culture [and] bad principles.”
Listen to (and share) episode 53 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman. Deadline’s executive business editor talks with host David Bloom about Carl Icahn’s latest billion-dollar tweet, this one involving a massive Apple share buyback proposal; what’s causing IMAX to stumble; the possible impacts of the federal government shutdown for media & entertainment companies; and Twitter’s now-official IPO and the lessons it might learn from Facebook’s missteps last year.
The stock is up 2.5% in mid-day trading after the billionaire corporate activist turned to Twitter and CNBC to discuss his dinner last night with Apple CEO Tim Cook. Carl Icahn said in a tweet this morning that he had “a cordial dinner with Tim” and “pushed hard” for the stock buyback. “We decided to continue dialogue in about three weeks.” He now controls nearly $2B in Apple stock, and considers a share repurchase “a no-brainer,” he told CNBC. “I can’t promise you the stock will go up and I can’t promise you they will do the buyback. But I can promise you that I’m not going away until they hear a lot more from me concerning this.” The price is right, he says: Apple shares are down 25.9% over the last 12 months as investors questioned whether it can come up with another blockbuster product to rival the iPhone and iPad. In addition, Apple has a lot of cash — although much of it is parked in other countries with unusually low tax rates. Even so, Icahn says Apple can take advantage of today’s low interest rates and borrow money to buy stock.
Listen to (and share) episode 52 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman. Deadline’s executive business editor talks with host David Bloom about a proposed FCC rule that may derail the recent TV station gold rush; the very different rush for Apple’s new gold iPhones and all those other colors; themes and memes out of the big Goldman-Sachs investor conference and Blackberry’s really bad quarter and plans to go private with a buyout from minority shareholder Fairfax Holdings.
UPDATE, 9:30 AM: Apple are breaking out their wallet today and breaking good it seems. Just days before Breaking Bad ends forever, the company is refunding the fans over their iTunes purchase of the last episodes of the AMC show. This iTunes $22.99 credit on Apple’s part doesn’t come cheap being that Breaking Bad was one of the most popular TV series on the online store. And it comes over two weeks (see below) after one irate fan began a class action suit against the tech company for its double dipping charges on Season 5 of the drama on iTunes. Back in mid-2012, AMC announced that the final season of Breaking Bad would be split up. However people who had bought a Season Pass to that season of the show on Apple’s music and video service didn’t discover until the second part of the cycle debuted on August 11 this year that they would have to pay another fee on top of their Season 5 Season Pass fee to watch the last 8 episodes. Those shows were now called “The Final Season” on iTunes. Needless to say, the fans were not happy and it looks like Apple or AMC or both heard them loud and clear. Check out the email that Apple sent out today to customers:
We apologize for any confusion the naming of “Season 5″ and “The Final Season” of Breaking Bad might have caused you. While the names of the seasons and episodes associated with them were not chosen by iTunes, we’d like to offer you “The Final Season” on us by providing you with the iTunes code below in the amount of $22.99. This credit can also be used for any other content on the iTunes Store. Thank you for your purchase.