Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ: VIAB ) is arguably the, if not one of the, most successful media conglomerates in the world today. Its significant reach into millions of households around the world and high-quality content has lead to solid revenue and earnings growth for numerous years. That being said, shareholders and prospective shareholders alike should be aware of three key facts going into tomorrow's earnings release.
Viacom's major brands like Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV, and VH1 feature widely loved programs around the world. The company's large portfolio of entertainment assets reach more than 700 million households in more than 160 countries worldwide.
Viacom's highly valuable content franchise is leading to healthy revenue growth at its media segment. In the last quarter, Viacom's revenue from its media business grew 6% year-over-year to $2.54 billion, but its filmed entertainment business saw revenue decline 30% year-over-year to $681 million, primarily because of fewer releases in theaters during the quarter.
In addition, Viacom's Paramount owns a 50% equity interest in premium entertainment channel EPIX, along with MGM Studios and Lionsgate. This distribution outlet provides subscribers more than 15,000 movies and shows as an add-on to standard-cable packages like Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) HBO and it is also available a la carte. Ownership of such a distribution outlet gives the company the ability to broadcast its own movies and shows from Paramount, MTV, and Nickelodeon.
Surging value of content
In the entertainment space, the entry of newer products and services like Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN ) Fire TV, Google's Chromecast, and Apple TV will drive incremental demand for valuable content. Because of this, major content producers like Viacom and Time Warner will see the value of their content rise as major over-the-top players including Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX ) and Amazon bid to add more content to grow their subscriber bases.
Netflix has more than 48.1 million subscribers, and Amazon is firmly playing catch-up with more than 20 million subscribers. Amazon struck an expensive deal with Viacom to get the exclusive rights to stream Nickelodeon's children content as Netflix couldn't come to terms with the high price tag for exclusive streaming rights with Viacom. This is not surprising because Nickelodeon consistently gets the No. 1 ratings spot for kids in the age bracket of 2-11.
Amazon wants a robust line-up of shows for its Fire TV and Prime subscriber base. It also just recently struck a multi-year deal with Time Warner's HBO to add high-quality shows from HBO's catalog, and it will be adding shows from HBO in the following three years after they air on HBO. Amazon will reportedly pay $300 million per year to HBO for this deal, and this goes to show the high value of popular, high-quality movies and TV serials. So major content creators like Viacom and Time Warner are sitting pretty and monetizing their libraries handsomely.
At a market cap of $36 billion, Viacom's remaining share repurchase authorization of $8.9 billion amounts to roughly 25% of the company's outstanding shares, and the company also pays a 1.4% cash dividend to its shareholders. Viacom's shareholder-friendly ways will drive big upside for the company's investors because the share count should decline substantially over the next couple of years and this will lead to robust earnings growth.
Viacom's operating margin of 30% is much higher than those of peer media companies like Time Warner and CBS. This will enable the company to service its high debt and simultaneously conduct this large share-repurchase program. In the last quarter, Viacom's share count decreased 11% year-over-year to 454 million shares, a big positive for longer-term shareholders.
Viacom is trying to grow its earnings by gaining more control over distribution by buying out its regional partners. Newer outlets for distribution such as over-the-top players are adding incremental revenues to the company. With a big reach and highly valuable content, the company has big leverage in negotiations with affiliates. The company's share-repurchase program will also make big contributions to its future earnings-per-share growth, and in the process this will drive the stock price higher.
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