Dividend payers deserve a berth in any long-term stock portfolio. But seemingly attractive dividend yields are not always as fetching as they may appear. Let's see which companies in cable and pay TV offer the most promising dividends.

Yields and growth rates and payout ratios, oh my!
Before we get to those companies, though, you should understand just why you'd want to own dividend payers. These stocks can contribute a huge chunk of growth to your portfolio in good times, and bolster it during market downturns.

As my colleague Matt Koppenheffer has noted: "Between 2000 and 2009, the average dividend-adjusted return on stocks with market caps above $5 billion and a trailing yield of 2.5% or better was a whopping 114%. Compare that to a 19% drop for the S&P 500."

When hunting for promising dividend payers, unsophisticated investors will often just look for the highest yields they can find. While these stocks will indeed pay out the most, the yield figures apply only for the current year. Extremely steep dividend yields can be precarious, and even solid ones are vulnerable to dividend cuts.

When evaluating a company's attractiveness in terms of its dividend, it's important to examine at least three factors:

  1. The current yield
  2. The dividend growth
  3. The payout ratio

If a company has a middling dividend yield, but a history of increasing its payment substantially from year to year, it deserves extra consideration. A $3 dividend can become $7.80 in 10 years, if it grows at 10% annually. (It will top $20 after 20 years.) Thus, a 3% yield today may be more attractive than a 4% one, if the 3% company is rapidly increasing that dividend.

Next, consider the company's payout ratio, which reflects what percentage of income the company is spending on its dividend. In general, the lower the number, the better. A low payout ratio means there's plenty of room for generous dividend increases. It also means that much of the company's income remains in its hands, giving it a lot of flexibility. That money can fund the business's expansion, pay off debt, buy back shares, or even buy other companies. A steep payout ratio reflects little flexibility for the company, less room for dividend growth, and a stronger chance that if the company falls on hard times, it will have to reduce its dividend.

Peering into cable and pay TV
Below, I've compiled some of the major dividend-paying players in the cable and pay TV industry (and a few smaller outfits), ranked according to their dividend yields:


Recent Yield

5-Year Avg. Annual Div. Growth Rate

Payout Ratio

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Shaw Communications (NYSE: SJR) 4.4% 30.5% 85% Add
Rogers Communications (NYSE: RCI) 3.8% 95% 49% Add
Time Warner Cable 2.5% New dividend 42% Add
Viacom (NYSE: VIA-B) 2% New dividend 21% Add
Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) 1.8% 21.5%* 29% Add
Cablevision Systems (NYSE: CVC) 1.7% 14.5%* 38% Add
Scripps Networks Interactive 0.8% 10.1%* 11% Add

Data: Motley Fool CAPS.
*Past three years.

As attractive as Shaw's and Rogers' dividend yields are, it pays to look closer at other factors. Dividend growth is also important, although sky-high rates like Rogers' can't last forever. By looking at payout ratios, you can get a sense of whether companies can continue paying and growing their dividends or whether growth will come to an abrupt halt.

You may notice, too, that some notable players in the industry, such as TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO) and Madison Square Garden (Nasdaq: MSG), aren't on the list. That's because smaller, fast-growing companies often prefer to plow any excess cash into further growth, rather than pay it out to shareholders. These two companies each sport market caps of $2 billion or less, versus nearly $70 billion for Comcast and $10 billion for Cablevision.

Just right
As I see it, among the companies above, Shaw Communications and Rogers Communications sport the best combinations of dividend traits. Despite Shaw's high payout ratio and Rogers' sky-high dividend growth, they offer some solid income now and a chance of strong dividend growth in the future. Remember that you can find even more compelling dividend payers in other industries, such as packaged consumer goods or oil refining.

Of course, as with all stocks, you'll want to look into more than just a company's dividend situation before making a purchase decision. Still, these stocks' compelling dividends make them great places to start your search, particularly if you're excited by the prospects for this industry.

Do your portfolio a favor. Don't ignore the growth you can gain from powerful dividend payers.

To get more ideas for great dividend-paying stocks, read about "13 High-Yielding Stocks to Buy Today."