Hollywood is calling with recent business results, and it's a mixed bag. For Time Warner
What's up, doc?
Time Warner saw fourth-quarter sales grow 2% year over year for a grand total of $7.3 billion. Non-GAAP earnings shot up from $0.19 per share to $0.55 per share. Theatrical film releases performed very well in 2009, driving Warner Bros. to a record of more than $4 billion in box-office receipts and seven bona fide $100 million hits during the year.
The publishing business is not so rosy; there, sales declined 13% to $1.1 billion. However, every division reported stronger operating results than last year, and AOL
Management is, as always, excited about the slate of upcoming films and plans to start churning out lots of superhero flicks based on the DC Comics catalog. Given that The Dark Knight was one of the biggest blockbusters in movie history and that Warner controls the DC stable outright, this is no big surprise. And Disney
The Wonder from Down Under
Time Warner's numbers looked decent, but they're nothing next to the bad boys across the tracks. News Corp. grew sales by 10% to $8.7 billion, compared to the year-ago quarter, and adjusted earnings leaped from $0.15 per share to $0.25 per share. Yes, the Avatar juggernaut made a real difference to the company's second quarter, but much of that windfall will show up in the next report.
Blockbuster movies tend to open big and die quickly, but Avatar is breaking the rules by dominating the box office after seven weeks in wide release. Only the first two of those weeks fell within the just-reported quarter for News subsidiary 20th Century Fox, which collects a bounty on Avatar because it distributes the film worldwide. So two weeks out of a multi-month best-seller are balanced out by the significant costs involved in promoting and distributing the film, while the next quarter will simply see the rest of the income with less of the front-loaded costs.
Where's the beef?
We won't have a complete picture of Hollywood until content producers like Disney, CBS
Several years of lower ticket sales and theater attendance have had media moguls ripping their (thinning) hair and gnashing their teeth, blaming piracy for most of their troubles. Now that the numbers are turning Hollywood's way, you hardly ever hear the dreaded "P" word anymore. Illegal file sharing may be on the decline, but I'd credit legal movie streams from the likes of Hulu and Netflix
The greatest innovation brought about by the media mavens recently might be as simple as higher ticket prices influenced by premium viewing experiences. Counting by attendance figures or inflation-adjusted dollars, Avatar is miles behind true blockbusters like Gone With the Wind or Jaws. But James Cameron and his ilk have figured out that workable 3-D projection techniques mesh very well with special-effects extravaganzas, and people are willing to pay extra for that experience -- even in a recession.
With that cushy strategy at hand, media giants look like rather safe bets right now. If you want something more exciting in your portfolio, you could go with special-effects lover IMAX
Am I right or am I right? Discuss in the comment box below.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Walt Disney and Netflix, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Walt Disney is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Walt Disney and Netflix are Motley Fool Stock Advisor choices. IMAX is a Rule Breakers selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.