Shares opened up more than 4% this morning after Philippe Dauman reassured investors that Viacom will continue to generate lots of cash from deals with streaming services — even if its program licensing pact with Netflix expires at the end of this month. “We’re still in discussions with Netflix…and with others,” he told analysts in a conference call. “We’re open to licensing content, some of it on an exclusive basis.” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings raised some fears last week when he said that his company would let its current deal with Viacom expire. Netflix is shifting its focus to “exclusive and curated content” as opposed to “non-exclusive, bulk content deals,” he said. The streaming service would be fine without Nickelodeon shows because “with all the recently added fresh programming from Disney, Cartoon Network, Hasbro’s The Hub and DreamWorks Animation, we have a great kids offering.” But Dauman also says that Viacom has little to fear without Netflix — and has “enough visibility” to know that the entertainment company can realize its forecast to see streaming revenues grow 10% this fiscal year. READ MORE »
Analysts expect to hear encouraging news across the board from the barrage of Big Media Q1 earnings reports and conference calls this week and next. But they’ll be listening especially carefully to Viacom on Wednesday. Its shares — which recently hit all-time highs — are down 3.6% since Monday night, when Netflix said that it will let its streaming deal with Viacom expire next month. Netflix says it would rather secure exclusive rights to particular shows instead of broad deals for shows that also appear on other streaming services including Amazon and Hulu. That worries some investors: Viacom has reassured them that all’s well following Nickelodeon‘s ratings dive last year — and backed up its confidence by promising to repurchase $2.5B in stock this year and pay $1 per share in dividends. The question now is whether Viacom can afford to make good on those vows. “Cash, rather than content, remains king,” Pivotal Research Group’s Brian Wieser says this morning. The Netflix news adds to the concerns about Viacom already held by Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger — the company’s toughest critic on Wall Street. “We don’t think Netflix will bid a big sum for the specific programs it wants from Viacom,” he says this AM. “If they were willing to do so, they wouldn’t have gone through this exercise.” Nor does Juenger believe that Amazon will become a white knight. It “has all the leverage. Anything they offer to Viacom is better than nothing.” He adds that it would be “the ultimate irony if Viacom claimed the loss of Netflix would help their linear ratings, given years of arguing the opposite.” Others are more sanguine about Viacom’s prospects.
EXCLUSIVE: Nickelodeon‘s top programming executive Marjorie Cohn is leaving. I hear that she has opted to depart the kids cable network after a 26-year tenure. Following a series of promotions, Cohn, a very well liked TV executive, most recently served as President, Content Development, Nickelodeon. She added animation and digital to her existing portfolio of live-action programming last year, following the departure of Brown Johnson when Russell Hicks was elevated to President, Content Development and Production for the Nickelodeon Group. Cohn has shepherded some of Nick’s biggest hits, including Rugrats, iCarly and SpongeBob. In the wake of her departure, Cohn’s direct reports are now expected to report to Hicks as Nick’s programming efforts have been shifting from New York, where Cahn has been based, to Los Angeles, where Hicks is. UPDATE: In addition to Cohn, also departing is EVP Nickelodeon Prods. Alison Dexter as part of a restructuring that eliminates the position as the production groups will now report to the live-action and animation executives. Here is the internal Nick memo from Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon and MTV Networks’ Kids & Family Group, outlining the changes:
Eight months ago, Russell Hicks took on his new role as our head of content development and production and relocated to Los Angeles. Since that time, we have focused our attention on serving the first generation of post-millennial viewers with exciting new content, introduced an innovative new brand experience through our App, and experienced new momentum in our ratings.
Here’s more proof that Wall Street has freed Viacom from the penalty box following last year’s steep ratings declines at Nickelodeon and MTV. The stock’s up 2.5% in late morning trading — and touched a record $65.25 — after Nomura Equity Research’s Michael Nathanson and RBC Capital Markets’ David Bank said that trends are improving for the entertainment giant. Nickelodeon’s ratings rose 1% in Q1 and with new shows including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles establishing themselves “we expect that the ratings momentum at Nick should continue,” Nathanson says. That could pay off if, as the analyst expects, studios boost spending to promote new movies later this year. If that happens and Nick’s ratings continue to improve then it “can likely take back some [advertising] market share from Cartoon Network,” he says. Bank’s upbeat case for Viacom goes beyond Nickelodeon. He says that ratings momentum “accelerated in roughly half of Viacom’s ad revenue portfolio” including Nick At Nite, BET, and Comedy Central. What’s more, he says MTV should look a lot better when year-over-year comparisons no longer include Jersey Shore, which ended its run late last year.
UPDATED: At the Nickelodeon upfront presentation in New York this afternoon, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said that the kids cable network, which has gone through some rough times lately, “has hit the reset button” and is “reinventing itself.” There will be a big investment in animation, including the company’s upcoming feature offshoots of Nick toon series, the SpongeBob Square Pants 3D movie and the Michael Bay-directed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, both slated for a 2014 release. Coincidentally, Nick’s upfront announcements today were all in the animation arena — a series pickup for Breadwinners, a new animated series based on the animated short by animator Gary “Doodles” DiRaffaele and writer Steve Borst (Mad), and a third season renewal for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. DiRaffaele and Borst, who came from Nickelodeon’s Animation Shorts Program, are also behind the Nickelodeon series about two booty-shaking ducks, which has received a 20-episode order. (watch the short below). Breadwinners joins recently picked up new live-action series The Haunted Hathaways, The Thundermans and Sam & Cat.
During the presentation, Nickelodeon Group president Cyma Zarghami acknowledged that the network has had a “tough year” where “new competitors came on strong,” a reference to upstart Disney Jr. She outlined the network’s strategy for getting back on track by targetting “post-millennial kids,” born in and after 2008.
Nickelodeon has given a 13-episode order to superhero family comedy pilot The Thundermans. As part of the pickup, the network has recast one of the two leads, with Jack Griffo replacing Tyler Peterson who played the part …
Expectations were already low for the entertainment company, so investors likely will reserve judgment until they hear about how much progress it’s making with its turnaround effort. Viacom reported Q4 net income for continuing operations of $473M, -20% vs …
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.”
In a symbolic passing-of-the-baton move, less than a week after Nickelodeon‘s veteran comedy iCarly ended its five-season run, the cable network is greenlighting a spinoff series from iCarly creator Dan Schneider starring series standout Jennette McCurdy. Nickelodeon has given a 20-episode order to comedy Sam & Cat, toplined by McCurdy and her close friend Ariana Grande, co-star of another Schneider-created Nickelodeon comedy ending its run, Victorious. Both are reprising their roles in Sam & Cat, in which the feisty Sam Puckett (McCurdy) and daffy Cat Valentine (Grande) become best buddies and unlikely roommates. They love their freedom and independence but quickly realize that fun and adventure do not come cheap. Rather than get traditional after-school jobs, Sam and Cat become teen entrepreneurs by starting their own baby-sitting business. Production on the series begins in January for a 2013 premiere.
One of the company’s most vigorous critics, Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger, thinks they will — or at least should. He downgraded his rating for Viacom this morning to “underperform” from “market perform” with a target price of $50 a share, below its close yesterday at $56.22. (Viacom opened this morning -2.5%.) He predicts that “MTV ratings will be down significantly” in the current fiscal year after falling 30% in the quarter that ended in September. Part of the problem is that MTV and other networks “have been starved as Viacom has funneled the majority of development dollars” into Nickelodeon — which was hit by a shocking ratings drop that began late last year. (Nick’s audience in the latest quarter was -27% vs the same period in 2011.) That’s significant because MTV’s performance could suffer later this year when the network’s hit Jersey Shore completes its final season — which follows the conclusion of another success, Teen Mom. “Looking at MTV’s 2012-13 programming lineup, it’s hard to believe there’s a high probability that any of these shows (on their own, or collectively) will offset the loss of Jersey Shore and Teen Mom 2,” Juenger says. “Returning shows like Awkward, Ridiculousness, and Teen Wolf have definitely not grabbed pop culture attention.” That could knock the wind out of MTV, which accounts for 18% of the ad sales at Viacom’s networks. Although Nickelodeon only has a few competitors, the analyst says that advertisers wanting to reach teens have “plenty of alternatives to MTV.”
First it was PBS, and now Mitt Romney is dissing Nickelodeon. The Republican presidential candidate told the children’s channel that he is too busy to participate in its annual Kids Pick The President special. “He just officially declined on Thursday,” a Nickelodeon spokesperson told Deadline today. The Romney campaign did not respond to queries about not being involved in the special, which will air October 15. Romney will appear instead in clips from various campaign events of him addressing issues related to children. President Obama will be taking part: According to Nickelodeon, Obama recently watched video questions from children around the U.S. and gave responses in a session filmed at the White House.