The company gave results for an eight-month timeframe, because it's transitioning to a calendar-year reporting basis. The top line grew 6% to $262.9 million, which was cool, since WWE no longer participates in domestic cable advertising sales; it decided to forgo selling ads for that platform on its own, and instead take a straight licensing fee for its product. Operating income declined 11% to $39.2 million, while net income inched up a penny to $0.44 per diluted share.
WWE may not have delivered the strongest results in its history, but it's still doing well in my opinion. For one thing, merchandise is an important ancillary revenue stream for any media company, and WWE seems to be performing well in this area. Merchandise sales at venues increased 44%, driven by higher attendance at North American events.
Sales for the consumer-products segment jumped 17%; home video led the way with a 55% increase in the number of gross units sold. WWE's retail e-commerce division advanced its revenues by just less than 50%. The important pay-per-view operations weakened, with overall buys for the period decreasing to 3,287 versus 3,785 in the comparable timeframe. There was a price hike, so that needs to be taken into consideration; still, WWE will need to get those numbers up.
Wrestlemania 23 is coming up this April, and it hopefully should perform well; Donald Trump will actually take a break from feuding with Rosie O'Donnell long enough to engage in a hair-match challenge with Vince McMahon at the event. (Yes, a hair-match challenge. Look it up.) Wrestlemania 25 will be here before you know it, and as the important anniversary date approaches, I'm sure WWE will be leveraging it for all it's worth via multiple marketing schemes. That could lead to increased interest in WWE and its various brands.
Alas, WWE Films still hasn't recorded any revenue from See No Evil or The Marine, which were distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment (NYSE: LGF ) and News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS ) Fox, respectively. As sure as clockwork, I'm here to defend the segment, one which has some pundits wondering why the company is even bothering, given movies' relatively high risk. WWE can't book any monies from the films because it must wait for distribution costs to be recouped; during the conference call, it mentioned that some revenue recognition might occur during Q2.
I say, give the company time. The first two films may have been underwhelming in terms of box-office receipts, but they should do well on DVD, pay television, etc. In fact, last summer, CEO Linda McMahon assured investors that See No Evil will see a profit after all is said and done. Perhaps the company will be luckier with The Condemned, an April release starring Stone Cold Steve Austin. Movies are certainly a crapshoot, but if you want to call yourself a truly integrated media company, you've got to make them.
WWE's long-term prospects remain attractive. It has a nice yield of about 6%; true, the payout ratio is way out of whack on this one, and cash flows have dropped, but I think the dividend will be sustainable and I believe that there will be opportunities for increases in the future. With Wrestlemania 25 on the way, strong home video operations, and a vibrant merchandising program, WWE has a lot going for it. In the meantime, investors are getting paid to wait for an upward cycling of top-line growth. And let's not forget that Trump/McMahon hair match -- if that doesn't scream shareholder value, I don't know what does.
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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns none of the companies mentioned. As of this writing, he was ranked 12,011 out of 22,722 investors in the CAPS system. Don't know what CAPS is? Check it out. The Fool has a disclosure policy.