It's hard not to like British Sky Broadcasting
Subscriber growth at BSkyB is set for double-digit growth over the next couple of years. Its cash flow is so robust that BSkyB will be wiped clear of debt by 2006. Even better, at $44 the satellite TV broadcaster's share price is well down from its 12-month high of $59.24. There's little reason why it shouldn't return there.
Consider BSkyB's recently released third-quarter figures. As usual, post-Christmas subscription growth shrank slightly from the second quarter. But sales rose to $1.6 billion, up from $1.4 billion a year ago. Net earnings jumped 63% from the same period last year. Not too shabby.
Although its pay-TV platform has already captured 40% of the U.K. market, BSkyB still has space to grow: There are 12 million households in Britain that still do not have cable or satellite services. At the same time, average revenue per subscriber (ARPU), an important measure for this industry, will likely expand as existing customers upgrade to BSkyB's new-and-improved program packages. Besides, BSkyB holds exclusive broadcasting rights to air Premier League Cup soccer, Britain's national obsession.
So, what's holding the stock back? Critics question whether 31-year-old James Murdoch, installed as CEO last year by his dad, is up to the job. Nepotism aside, there's also the issue of where the $4.9 billion of pre-dividend cash estimated to be generated over the next five years should go. With heavy investment in digital technology now pretty much complete, investors are hungry for a bigger dividend reward.
BSkyB is firing on all cylinders. The introduction of a clear dividend strategy could be all it takes for the young Murdoch to quiet his critics, please impatient investors, and send the stock back to where it belongs.
Fool contributor Ben McClure hails from the Great White North. He owns British Sky Broadcasting shares.