Media Companies: Why Their New Digital Strategy Could Help You Profit

It is an interesting time for media companies. As we all know, this business is susceptible to rapid technological changes, and large investments need to be made in order to keep up with them. The growth of video streaming, personal video recorders, video-on-demand technology, and Internet Protocol television (IPTV) networks has changed the distribution and viewing habits of customers. As a result, media companies need to constantly adapt their content and how they get it to the consumer.

Expanding digital content distribution is key in this business, as it has proven to generate consistent revenue. Most media companies are aware of this and are doing their best to grow their share in the digital world.

There are three media operators doing their best to keep up with changes in media. Begging the question of Foolish investors: What are they up to?

Satellite radio boosting results
Liberty Media (NASDAQ: LMCA  ) owns interests in numerous media, communications, and entertainment companies. The second quarter of 2013 showed strong financial results for the company. EPS reached $0.79 and total revenue was $1.07 billion, way higher than the $135 million revenue made in the second quarter of 2012. The recent acquisition of a controlling stake in Sirius XM Radio contributed to this result.

With its 25.1 million subscribers, Sirius XM is proving helpful for Liberty Media. Sirius XM is the largest satellite radio service provider in the world, and the possible synergies with this company are impressive.

Strategy wise, Liberty Media has entered the cable TV industry with the intention to consolidate its presence in the pay-TV market. Its $2.6 billion acquisition of a 27.3% stake in Charter Communications, the fourth largest pay-TV operator in the U.S., is a very important move toward realizing this strategy.  

The company's balance sheet remains healthy. Liberty Media's main financial improvement came from its Starz segment's spin-off as a separate entity, providing a $1.4 billion cash dividend. This operation unlocked Starz' value, optimizing its capital structure and allowing it to generate content and distribute it.

Liberty Media is restructuring its business model, with a focus on controlling many subscription-based companies. However, the growth of digital TV deployments may impact the company's channel positioning.

Looking for record profits? CBS' subscriptions show the way
CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) is a mass media company with operations in entertainment, cable networks, publishing, and local broadcasting.

The company announced strong second quarter results, posting record quarterly profits. Total revenue of $3.6 billion was an increase of 11% from the prior-year quarter and EPS reached $0.76, 12% higher year-over-year and driven by higher licensing and affiliate income.

A long-term driver for CBS has been its focus on increasing its subscription-based revenue channels. This strategy has proved successful for the company and I expect its growth momentum will continue throughout this year. This momentum will be supported by reverse compensation from affiliates, strong demand for content, digital distribution, syndication sales, and retransmission consent. Management expects to make $1 billion in retransmission and reverse compensation revenues by 2017.

CBS will also continue to profit from its streaming agreements, as it possesses long-term streaming deals for CW content with Netflix and Hulu, which help its studio bottom-line results. Moreover, the company extended the archive available on Amazon Prime Instant Video, which is Amazon's streaming video site.

CBS remains well positioned to drive growth. It remains highly vulnerable to the advertising market, however, which is very susceptible to economic headwinds.

Streaming: High margins for Viacom
Viacom (NASDAQ: VIAB  ) operates in over 160 countries, providing content across television, motion pictures, online, and mobile platforms.

The company presented positive but mixed financial results for its third quarter of 2013. Net income was $647 million, 20% higher than the $523 million posted in the prior-year quarter. Total revenue increased to $3.69 billion, up 14%. The biggest contributors to this revenue growth were the media networks and filmed entertainment segments.

Just like CBS, Viacom has made deals to offer video streaming services with Hulu, Barnes & Noble's Nook readers, and Amazon's Kindle readers. The agreements with Netflix and Hulu generate margins of around 75%, greatly improving the company's bottom line. In addition, a recent deal with Sony in which Viacom gives the latter access to stream CBS' live shows over the Internet through its appliances should allow the company expand its audience.

A key area for the business is improving its viewership ratings, and Viacom is experiencing continuous improvements in this arena. Its hit movie releases are providing both theatrical and advertising revenues as well, putting cashflow generation back on track.

I consider the company's current pricing fairly valued. Its price has soared a 64% in the last year, so there might be not much room for extra growth in the medium term. Moreover, the company's business model is predominantly based on cable networks, hit movie releases, and the monetization of content from distribution platforms. All of these platforms might be affected by a downturn in the U.S. economy.

Bottom line
Liberty Media will remain competitive in this market going forward. However, it will be important to monitor the development of its pay-TV position. CBS manages to capitalize on its content and its long-term agreements will provide good cash flow in the long run. The only threat is its exposure to advertising volatility. Viacom remains solid, but I believe its price could experience a correction in the event of changes in the company's fundamentals and or a slowdown of the U.S. recovery. All three present interesting opportunities for Foolish investors as the industry continues to adapt to the changing landscape. 

What does the future of entertainment look like? Americans reportedly spend nearly 34 hours a week watching television! With television viewing taking up almost as much time as the average work week, the potential for profits in the space is enormous. The Motley Fool's top experts have created a new free report titled "Will Netflix Own the Future of Television?" The report not only outlines where the future of television is heading, but offers top ideas for how to profit. To get your free report, just click here!


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