The studio will unveil the details soon, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman says this morning. But the production to follow the SpongeBob SquarePants movie due in 2014 will be “based on original IP [intellectual property] and will have consumer products possibilities.” It will put Paramount “very much on track to begin with one [animated] release per year.” And the CEO tried to reassure investors that he won’t break the bank. Viacom will spend less than $100M and budgets “in some cases [will be] significantly below.” Dauman began planning to build an animation operation at Paramount as he anticipated the possible loss of its distribution deal with DreamWorks Animation when their contract expired at the end of 2012. In August, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s studio agreed to let Fox distribute its films beginning this year.
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 …
The drop reflects a decline in one-time stock awards and non-equity incentives — and isn’t a reflection of the company’s view of the CEO’s performance — according to the proxy statement Viacom just filed at the SEC. Viacom …
Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger seems to think so based on his light-hearted, and occasionally acidic, effort this morning to develop awards for media business types who don’t qualify for, say, the Academy Awards. (For example, his “Best Actor” award to the executive with the highest earnings goes to CBS’ Les Moonves who made about $70M in 2011.) The stand-out line, though, summarizes his view about what it takes to be a Big Media CEO: They ”are rewarded mostly for doing nothing but collecting affiliate fees and buying back stock,” he says. “It takes a lot of guts to deviate from that formula, given the safety and reward that can be gained by sticking to it.” Juenger also nails the Alice In Wonderland logic companies use to justify CEOs’ jumbo-sized pay — especially when the compensation shows little correlation to stock performance over the last three years. For instance, he notes that “The top two earners over the three-year time frame, by far, are the CEOs of CBS ($171M) and Viacom ($162M), proving it’s especially lucrative to be a media CEO working for Sumner Redstone when he thinks you’re a ‘genius’ (CBS) or a ‘genius and the wisest man I ever met’ (Viacom).”
Listen to episode 19 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman. This week Deadline Executive Editor Lieberman and host David Bloom discuss the potential impact on Hollywood as a result of the President’s efforts to reduce gun violence; the news coming out of former corporate siblings Viacom and CBS; and expansion plans by online TV service, Aereo.
Don’t raise Todd Juenger’s name if you happen to run in to Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman this morning. The Bernstein Research analyst — who’s also Wall Street’s most vigorous Viacom critic — just unloaded both barrels at the spreading view that the company is poised for a rebound. Shares are +9.6% since New Year’s Day, closing at $57.82 yesterday: As I noted this week, several investors and analysts say that ratings either have or should improve at Nickelodeon and MTV, and will start to look really good when compared to early 2012 when Nick hit the skids. Don’t tell that to Juenger, who just reiterated his “underperform” rating and $52 price target. “We attribute Viacom’s poor ratings primarily to a lack of institutional creative capability, perennial under-investment, excessive reliance on too few hit programs, and liberal online distribution” to companies such as Netflix — which cannibalizes TV viewing — he says. As a result, he places a “low probability on the likelihood of a ratings turnaround.”
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.”
Investors are still celebrating the new year after lawmakers in Washington agreed to deficit reduction legislation that will derail a package of spending cuts and tax increases that many economists say could have triggered another recession. Media stocks are largely up today, with Lionsgate hitting an all-time high, and conglomerates including CBS, News Corp and Time Warner touching 52-week highs. The Dow Jones U.S. Media Index is +2.7% in early afternoon trading, ahead of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Standard and Poor’s 500, which are both +1.7%. Viacom (+5.7%) is a standout among the leading Big Media companies. The increase follows a report this morning from Lazard Capital Markets’ Barton Crockett who says that the entertainment company “should benefit from a sentiment swing” as ratings stabilize at networks including Nickelodeon and MTV. Following Viacom among the industry leaders: News Corp (+3.7%), Time Warner (+3.0%), CBS (+2.8%), Comcast (+2.5%), Discovery (+2.6%), Sony (+2.3%), and Disney (+2.0%). Other big gainers today include LIN TV (+7.2%), National CineMedia (+6.4%), and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (+6.1%).
Philippe Dauman Doesn’t Rule Out A ‘Book Of Mormon’ Movie, But Discourages Talk Of Studio Consolidation
The Viacom CEO told an investor conference this morning that his company has “a small investment” in the Broadway musical hit from South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. And although he didn’t directly address a question about whether Paramount might turn The Book Of Mormon into a film, he seemed to indicate that it’s a possibility: “We love working with the two of them,” he said, adding that “we always look for opportunities to work with them.” He made the comments at the Gabelli Best Ideas Conference where, in reviewing Viacom’s operations, he touted recent changes at Paramount. With a strategy designed to minimize risk, he says, “you’ll never see us with a John Carter” — a reference to Disney’s big-budget disappointment this year. He supported the effort to slash Paramount’s production slate from as many as 30 releases a year to about 15 “concentrating on franchise films and our brands…We have been reducing the overhead at Paramount year after year.” He added that “the film business is one where you have to control the cost.”
Global Showbiz Briefs: Chinese Studios Seek Shanghai Listings, Viacom Projected To Lead Pay-TV Revenues In Europe
Chinese Studios Seek IPOs
China Film Co. and Shanghai Film Group Co. have both applied to the Chinese regulatory commission seeking listings on the Shanghai stock exchange. There were no financial or timing details disclosed, The Wall Street Journal reports. As the business booms in China, IPOs would allow both companies to raise funds for producing the kinds of big-budget films that Chinese audiences gravitate toward. China Film was behind last year’s local hit Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate and 2010’s Let The Bullets Fly which was that year’s top grossing domestic pic. Shanghai Film’s Aftershock was a hit documentary in 2010. Chinese audiences are big consumers of Hollywood blockbusters but the market share for local pics dropped 4.3% in the first half of this year. SARFT vice-minister Tian Jin recently said increasing the number of foreign films into China has “shaken” the local business and “posed pressure and challenge to the Chinese film industry.”
NEW YORK, Nov. 27, 2012 — Wade Davis has been appointed Chief Financial Officer of Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIAB, VIA) it was announced today by Thomas E. Dooley, Viacom’s Chief Operating Officer. Mr. Davis, 40, previously served as Viacom’s Executive Vice President, Strategy and Corporate Development. He succeeds Jimmy Barge, who, after a transition period with Mr. Davis, will leave the company to pursue other opportunities.
For a sense of how blah the Q3 earnings season was, here’s a sample of some of my favorite headlines from analyst reports for the period: About Comcast, “Not Sexy, But Safe (…But Maybe Safe IS Sexy).” About Disney, “Expect No Magic In The F1Q13 Kingdom.” About News Corp, “Still Waiting For More News.” About Time Warner, “Cost Controls Fuel Profit Upside.” And the winner, about Viacom: ”Things Starting To Get Less Bad!” All in all, the results weren’t as dreary as you might have expected in a period when ad sales were soft (aside from the Olympics and political spending), TV ratings were down, box office fell, and pay TV subscriptions were flat. The good news from the companies’ perspective is that investors already knew about most of these issues. And CEOs seemed to find it easy to counter disappointing surprises. Some reassured the Street that ad sales kinda, sorta seem to be improving — and that they’re still committed to returning cash to them through stock repurchases or dividends. All in all, the Dow Jones U.S. Media Index is down 2.6% since the beginning of this month, just slightly lower than the benchmark Standard & Poors 500 which is -2.2%. That’s pretty good considering that the Media Index is up 28% so far for all of 2012 while the market is +10%.
Not much to crow about for the quarter that ended in September, although net profits benefited from foreign exchange rates and lower taxes. Viacom reported net earnings of $650M, +12.8% vs the period last year, on revenues of $3.36B, …
Analysts may overlook some of the encouraging numbers in the satellite company’s latest earnings as a higher-than-expected churn rate resulted in disappointing growth in domestic subscriptions. DirecTV ended up with net income of $572M, +9.8% vs the period last year, on revenues of $7.42B, +8.4%. Revenues were a hair above the $7.41B that the Street expected. But earnings per share at 90 cents missed projections for 93 cents — and the results would have been lower without a $39M “other gain.” The U.S. business generated $5.77B in revenues, +6.4%, with an operating profit of $876M, +9.5%. The gains were partly due to price increases, higher sales of premium services, and an extra week of NFL Sunday Ticket vs last year. But the standout figure is the 19.98M domestic subscriber number — up just 67,000 vs last year’s gain of 327,000. The company says the slowdown is largely due to a rising churn rate “principally driven by a contract dispute” with Viacom.