A major key to success in long-term investing is recognizing great brands. However, when it comes to growth investing, more is required; which is why I look for undervalued companies with strong brands.
In the media landscape, there may not be a more popular and pervasive brand than AMC Networks' (AMCX 0.03%) signature AMC channel. The channel is home to some of the biggest names in drama, and the company as a whole is still cheap and small relative to peers.
Incredible brand strength
There is perhaps no better example of AMC channel's popularity and success than The Walking Dead. The zombie-filled drama keeps on getting more impressive. The series' fourth-season finale, which aired on March 30, is expected to break cable television records.
The Walking Dead has been met with incredible commercial success at every turn. The series' most recent return to cable on February 9 drew in 15.8 million viewers and managed to beat NBC's Sochi Winter Olympics coverage.
Also, management at AMC Networks is busy promoting the first part of its final season of hit period drama Mad Men. The series is more of a critical success compared to The Walking Dead, as it has won a seemingly endless stream of awards including numerous Primetime Emmy wins for "Outstanding Drama Series."
When combined with the cultural phenomenon that was Breaking Bad, it is obvious that management at AMC Networks has become skilled at fostering the development of top-tier content.
The quality of content is so good that it is on par with premium cable services like Time Warner's (TWX) HBO unit, which produces original content like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire. This is especially impressive when we consider that management at AMC Networks has less room for risk since its channels are entirely dependent on ratings as opposed to suite networks like HBO, which is an added payment entertainment option.
Organic growth of content
One of my main concerns with the future of AMC Networks as a growth company was that it could have ended up being a victim of its own success. However, management's recent moves, which include the development of spinoff shows to The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad as well as promising new content like Turn and Catch and Halt Fire, means the likelihood of success is high.
The company has also been busy expanding its lesser-known networks like WEtv, IFC, and SundanceTV. Chief Executive officer Joshua Sapan explained in the company's most recent conference call:
We continue to ramp up programming investment at WE tv, IFC and SundanceTV, and these networks are each enjoying solid momentum. Our focus is to make each of these channels stronger, which we believe will ultimately make our portfolio of networks more valuable in the long term.
Inorganic growth could be huge
With a market capitalization of only $5.2 billion, which is quite minuscule compared to Time Warner's $58.3 billion, the company is making moves that belie its diminutive size. AMC Networks' most recent acquisition of Chellomedia, a global cable network operator, gave the company access to hundreds of millions of subscribers in over 180 countries. Now, the company can begin to expand its popular content to new consumers the world over, which will foster even more growth opportunities.
Growth at a cheap price
All this talk of popular content and small size would suggest that AMC Networks is expensive. However, this is not the case. The company is projected to grow revenue 39.1% and earnings per share 24.6% in 2014, and it still only trades at a forward P/E of 14.6. Although Time Warner is slightly less expensive, with a forward P/E of 14.5, its growth is vastly inferior. In 2014, Time Warner is projected to witness a 7.8% decline in revenue and only 4% growth in EPS.
The more I write about AMC Networks, the more impressed I am with the company as a potential growth investment. Not only is the company growing super fast at the moment, while still trading at cheap valuation levels, but AMC Networks will always remain a viable takeover candidate. The small size and big brand value of AMC channel properties means that a buyout of the media company in an industry that is prone to consolidation is very possible.