The analysis today from Nomura Equity Research’s Michael Nathanson could dampen the mood at TV networks as we head into the big upfront ad sales season. The most startling discovery: total ad revenues didn’t grow at all in 2012 at the Big Media companies he tracks. Declines at Viacom and News Corp outweighed gains at Discovery and Scripps Networks while sales were “essentially flat” at CBS, Disney, and Time Warner. “Given the surge in media stocks, the aggregate 0% growth was somewhat surprising,” Nathanson says. Factoring out political and Olympics-related ads in 2012, he sees ad sales at the companies growing 3.6% in 2013. But the analyst is “cautious” about his forecast. The pickup in the U.S. economy has been “weak” and the ongoing budget stalemates portend “an uncertain economic future.” Meanwhile Internet-based media are taking market share, and driving ad rates down. “In effect, online advertising — specifically online display advertising — is enabling advertisers to reach their ‘eye-ball targets’ with less (and sometimes even no) ad dollar budget growth.” For example, last year media and entertainment companies cut their ad spending 4.2% — even as box office sales hit a record high. READ MORE »
News Corp. has been raising the profile of deputy COO James Murdoch of late with the exec making two appearances before investors last month. Is News Corp. also looking to rebuild his coterie of board seats? Germany’s Sky Deutschland plans to appoint Murdoch as a member of its supervisory board, according to Reuters. The pay-TV group, a source told the news agency, expects to benefit from Murdoch’s international market and new technology savvy. Amid the phone-hakcing and bribery scandals at News Corp.’s UK press division last year, Murdoch left chairmanships at News International and at pay-TV group BSkyB, which News Corp. controls via its 39% stake. He also ankled the boards of Sotheby’s, GlaxoSmithKline and News Corp.’s UK print operations. But, he retained his board seat at BSkyB. News Corp. owns 54.8% of Sky Deutschland and if Murdoch does join the company board, he would be surrounded by News Corp. execs. COO Chase Carey, 20th Century Fox Television Distribution president Mark Kaner, News International CEO Thomas Mockridge and Europe & Asia COO Jan Koeppen are all members.
I’ve been waiting to see if any analyst would slam News Corp’s decision to launch Fox Sports 1, the national general sports makeover for the company’s Speed channel. You can make a compelling case that the pay TV sports bubble is about to pop, especially if cable and satellite companies follow through on their threats to cut high-priced sports channels from the basic cable bundle. But the investment pros continue to bet that the current system will remain intact, and that Fox Sports 1 will be a winner. Several raised their target price for News Corp stock. The consensus view is that pay TV distributors will agree to pay about $1 a month for each subscriber — up from the the estimated 22 cents the company currently collects for Speed — raising affiliate revenues to $1.1B a year from $312M. News Corp will have several opportunities to push for higher rates: about 30% of its current pay TV deals expire by mid 2014, and another 40% will be due the following year, Barclays Equity research’s Anthony DiClemente notes.
After attempts to stake a big claim in the digital arena via also-ran MySpace and the now-defunct The Daily newspaper, News Corp. is headed into the classroom. Its new Amplify Tablet computer designed specifically for schools is being unveiled at SWSWedu in Austin today. Geared towards the K-12 market, the tablet is aimed at transforming “the way teachers teach and students learn,” Joel Klein, CEO of News Corp.’s education division, Amplify, said. Klein has experience in the field: he headed the New York public school system before joining Rupert Murdoch’s company two years ago. Interest in digital learning is at a high and News Corp. is looking to tap into the dollars being spent on technology by U.S. schools. Tablets will come loaded with features that allow teachers to plan lessons, prepare quizzes, send assignments, share multimedia resources and manage their students’ devices. They’ll cost $299 per year per student for a WiFi-enabled device, when purchased with a two-year subscription at $99 per year. There’s also a 4G model for $349 with a $179/year annual subscription. (By comparison, the iPad2 costs $399.) Amplify execs expect a $180M operating loss for the first year, The New York Times reported.
News Corp. is forging ahead with the Amplify tablet as it continues to try and distance itself from its troubles in the UK. In 2010, News Corp. acquired a 90% stake in Wireless Generation, but later lost a contract to build a student data system for New York when the comptroller
The Fox Sports Media Group has an upfront presentation scheduled for this afternoon and is expected to use that platform to announce the launch of its first national cable sports network, Fox Sports 1. The all-sports network will go live in August, timed to the start of college football season and David Hill, the former head of the Fox Sports Media Group, has been brought in to oversee the creation and launch. Plans for the channel have been brewing for some time – News Corp. COO Chase Carey last month called it the “world’s worst kept secret” – but up to now details were scant including what sports the network would carry. According to The New York Times, Fox Sports 1 will have Nascar, Major League Baseball, college basketball and football, soccer (including the 2018 and 2022 World Cups) and UFC fights. Also, an in-studio show will be hosted by Regis Philbin who last week hinted at the prospect.
News Corp and Disney reportedly are in early talks about the future of their jointly controlled online video site Hulu. The Wall Street Journal, citing people with knowledge of the situation, said today that the two companies, …
Don Groves is a Deadline contributor based in Sydney
Rupert Murdoch’s Australian empire will generate as much of 60% of the annual earnings of the publishing arm of News Corp. after the company splits this year, say Sydney-based analysts who are generally sanguine about the new News Corporation’s prospects. The Oz group has largely gone under the radar of international investors until now because its financial results were not disclosed. With that set to change after the split, Kim Williams, CEO of Australian division News Limited, will face increased pressure and scrutiny from the get-go.
ComSec’s Alice Bennett expects News Corporation stock to be sold off aggressively at the start, creating one of the initial challenges for Williams. Bennett believes the sale will be down to factors that include News Corp.’s exposure to the Australian and New Zealand economies; the fact that publishing reps 53% of earnings; ongoing losses at the Amplify education business and the risk of further litigation in the UK. But, she does allow, “When the dust settles post demerger, we think this vehicle could provide some interesting opportunities for Australian investors given the highly cash-generative pay TV assets and higher-growth online assets.” Fox Sports and Foxtel, of which News Corp. holds 50%, are staying in the publishing fold. The company also owns 61% of realestate.com.au.
As News Corp works toward dividing into two distinct companies, executive appointments have steadily continued on the publishing side. Raju Narisetti, currently a deputy managing editor at The Wall Street Journal and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, has been named SVP and deputy head of strategy for the new News Corporation. Narisetti takes up his functions March 11, reporting to Anoushka Healy, who was recently named chief strategy officer. Click over for the official press release:
Looks like News Corp’s trying to boost the Deputy COO’s profile on Wall Street: James Murdoch’s appearance today at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference was his second high-profile presentation to investors this month. (He was also on News Corp’s latest earnings call.) Rupert’s son, who last year had to defend himself against allegations that he was at least partly responsible for News Corp’s UK hacking and bribery scandals, seemed to relish the largely friendly questions about the company’s plans. He assured the audience that the company won’t go overboard in buying rights to sports programming amid reports that News Corp plans to create a national sports network. “It’s important to have a portfolio of rights where you can walk away,” Murdoch says. For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers wanted payments that were “too rich for us,” leading the team to create its own regional sports channel.
Listen to (and share) episode 22 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman. This week Deadline Executive Editor Lieberman and host David Bloom look at what’s driving Disney’s strong share price during a solid but unspectacular quarterly earnings report, the near-record lows hitting DreamWorks Animation and the near-record highs lifting News Corp.
The stock is down 2.2% to $27.60 at mid-day. But that’s the equivalent of a shoulder shrug for News Corp‘s disclosure last night that weaker-than-expected results at Fox, the publishing operations, and Sky Italia mean that this year’s cash flow will grow by a “mid- to high-single-digit” percentage as opposed to the earlier projection for “high-single to low-double-digit” pickup. News Corp shares are still trading near all time highs. And analysts overwhelmingly say that they’re unfazed by the soft ratings at Fox, and the local economic slowdowns affecting News Corp’s Italian satellite service and Australian newspapers. “None of these factors come as a huge shock,” RBC Capital Markets’ David Bank says. “Additionally, none of them are real thesis changers.” Lazard Capital Markets’ Barton Crockett calls them “transitional” issues, adding that “cable network growth will pick up in a couple of quarters, and over-power the Fox and Sky Italia issues.” Wells Fargo’s Marci Ryvicker also observes that “the next positive catalyst is around the corner”: In about a month News Corp will file with the SEC financial details about its plan to create separate companies for its entertainment and publishing assets.