These aren't merry times for the media giants. This morning, Time Warner
Fourth-quarter revenue fell by 3% to $12.3 billion, with top-line gains at the company's media networks and Time Warner Cable
Earnings from continuing operations clocked in at $0.23 a share, before a massive $24.2 billion asset-impairment charge that covered many of its properties.
The biggest revenue bleeder was AOL, clocking in 23% lower year over year. That bloodletting is intentional; AOL has been pushing access subscribers out the door by eliminating perks as it keys in on higher-margin ad revenue derived from serving up free content. For now, the purge seems to have succeeded in increasing adjusted operating profits.
As a longtime AOL subscriber, it stings to see AOL with just 6.9 million stateside access subscribers. That's 2.4 million fewer than it had a year ago, and well shy of the 26.7 million access accounts it encompassed at its 2002 peak. Why is AOL going with a gradual decline, when it could probably receive a healthy ransom by handing over its access customers to EarthLink
Weakness at the rest of the company is more understandable. Print publishing is a fading medium. In movies, the company faces the same troublesome comparisons as Disney
Alas, things won't get better in the near term. The company is projecting adjusted earnings for all of 2009 to merely equal the $0.66 a share it ultimately earned in 2008.
Time Warner is now trading in the single digits, armed with the power to declare a 1-for-2 or 1-for-3 reverse split. That move was authorized to help beef up the company's share price after it finishes spinning off its cable subsidiary, but Time Warner may want to keep the option open if its stock continues to shrink on its own.
This year, at least, it seems there's no happy ending in store for Time Warner. We can only hope things will turn around in the sequel.
Other ways to go back in Time:
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz tells people that he's the "you've got mail" guy, just for kicks. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story, save for Disney. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool's disclosure policy does not miss 56k modems in the slightest.