It remains to be seen how valuable the acquisition of NBC will be to Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) over the long term, but over the next couple of quarters is should prove to be a big catalyst for the company's share price.
NBC has a couple of things going for it. The most obvious is the benefit it will receive from revenue generated via advertising during the Winter Olympics. The second, and longer term benefit, is the surprise breakout hit "The Blacklist," as well as a good performance from "Grimm." The broadcaster has needed to score some quality programming, and it is improving significantly in that area of the business.
Short-term outlook for network advertising
Other networks will suffer as a result of NBC taking advertising dollars away from them. That and robust upfront sales in 2013 will also weigh on the TV networks in the fourth quarter of 2013 and first quarter of 2014.
The scatter market, which is TV advertising sold later in the year as the specific air date approaches, is under particular pressure from the two catalysts mentioned above. Scatter ad volume is expected to continue to fall through the first quarter of 2014 at minimum, although not nearly as much as the fourth quarter of 2013.
Consequently, overall national TV advertising revenue has been downwardly revised from 5.9% to 4.7% by Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson Research. The broadcast networks themselves will grow by only 2.8% in the fourth quarter according to Nathanson, who said "for the first time in recent memory, some media executives, blaming softer scatter and weak ratings trends, publicly talked down fourth-quarter advertising expectations." The 2.8% excludes NBC.
Specific network ad revenue
It appears investors waited until after the end of 2013 before taking a closer look at broadcaster stocks, and from the drop in share price across most of the majors, it looks like they don't like what they see in regard to advertising dollars.
In the fourth quarter C3 ratings, which is commercial ratings plus three days in the 18-49 prime time demo, broadcasters were able to generate a slight 0.8% gain. That was almost solely the result of sports, with NFL programming and Fox's airing of the World Series helping to boost viewership by 10.7%. NBC was up by 1.1%, ABC was down 2.1%, and CBS plummeted 4.3% in the key demo during that period.
Advertising at cable networks
Cable networks appear to have performed at a similar level as the broadcasters overall, with national ad revenue climbing by 4.7% in the fourth quarter. AMC was the big winner there, with advertising revenue soaring by 32%. Disney was up 7%, Scripps Network Interactive jumped 6.5%, 21st Century Fox gained 6%, and Discovery increased 5%. NBCUniversal was up 4%, while Time Warner lagged behind but was still up 3%.
This points to the rest of the cable companies performing very weakly for the period.
With the exception of Comcast, the major media companies have been under pressure so far in 2014. There is no doubt the weak scatter market is the major catalyst behind that.
It will take a couple of quarters worth of results to get more visibility for the year. Some political revenue should start to help as well, as campaigns begin to spend more as we get further into the 2014 election year.
In the short term, it looks like Comcast should do very well because of the Olympics, as this has been a major impetus in the weak scatter market. It will also continue to put downward pressure on ad revenue for the other major broadcasters.
Until we get a better understanding of the second quarter of 2014, the major broadcasters will probably remain range bound or possibly fall a little in value. That may be considered an opportunity because entertainment companies have been doing so well over the last year.
Gary Bourgeault has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.