The nuptials are set for this fall: CBS (NYSE: CBS ) is going to wed its UPN television network to the WB network owned by Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) . And it could be a magical pairing.
While UPN has had its successes, such as Veronica Mars, and the WB has hit paydirt with Gilmore Girls, the sad reality is that both networks have been long on trying and short on hits. But by combining forces, the newly christened CW network will be able to cherry-pick the winners and build what should be a reasonably strong fall schedule.
Don't get me wrong. The CW is already being labeled the "fifth network," and that's exactly what it will be -- No. 5. Disney's (NYSE: DIS ) ABC, General Electric's (NYSE: GE ) NBC, News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS ) Fox, and CBS's namesake network are locked in a heated battle for the top spot and the spoils that go along with it -- especially the advertising dollars when the fall season arrives.
For perspective, consider that the combined season-to-date ratings for UPN and the WB, according to Nielsen Media Research, are less than that of the current No. 4 network, Fox. Accordingly, I'll be among the first to acknowledge that the new CW has a lot of some work ahead of it.
But that's not to say there isn't some real potential here. The CW, for now, can focus on bright spots such as Kids' WB -- with its five hours of original programming on Saturday mornings -- that has allowed the WB to capture 16 consecutive sweeps victories as the top Saturday morning broadcaster for kids.
The joining of forces is also sure to make for better profitability for both partners. But ultimately, the big winner could be CBS. The impact of a joint venture stake (50%) in a viable profitable network could mean a lot to CBS, which has a third of the sales of Time Warner. Everyone knows that UPN and the WB are struggling separately, but combining the best of both networks could well serve as a positive variable not previously priced into CBS's stock.
Although CBS stock fell by about 2% today, investors would be wise to consider that it sells for 15 times 2006 earnings projections of $1.75 a share. That's not a heady multiple for the company that recently separated from Viacom (NYSE: VIA ) and has yet to show what it can do on its own -- although today's UPN news is, of course, very exciting. That multiple's also tempting because CBS's core assets should provide the cash flow to support a strong dividend.
We'll have to tune in this fall to see how it all plays out.
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