Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) reported solid first quarter performance on April 29. The company recorded $7.1 billion in revenue for the period and adjusted earnings per share of $1.19. Sales were up 12% year over year, while adjusted EPS increased roughly 23%.
Following the quarterly results, key Time Warner officials participated in a conference call to discuss the quarter's results and the overall business. Here are five key takeaways from the call.
Turner performed well and has assets for continued success
Strong performance from Time Warner's Turner networks segment elevated results for the first quarter, with the segment's quarterly revenue rising 5% from the prior year and adjusted operating income up by 26%. Great performance for NCAA tournament basketball helped generate double-digit ad growth on Turner networks.
Here's Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes on the great results of the NCAA Tournament, expected strength from NBA playoff coverage, and the performance of original programing:
The strong performance of the NCAA helped TBS finish as the number one ad-supported U.S. cable network among adults 18 to 49 in primetime in the first quarter. And if last year is any indication, the NBA playoffs will help TNT land in a similar position this quarter. Beyond sports, we are also continuing to invest in the best original programming. TNT had three of the top-10 cable originals in the first quarter. That is Major Crimes, The Librarians, and Rizzoli & Isles.
Bewkes continued discussing the importance of original programming, stating that Time Warner has eight new series set to debut this year on TBS and TNT, and pointing to the successes of Adult Swim and Cartoon Network. In Q1, Cartoon Network claimed 9 of the top 10 cable telecasts among boys aged 6 to 11, with 22% viewership growth among this demographic. It was also the number one network overall for VOD content.
Time Warner also saw solid first quarter performance from its CNN and HLN news networks. Total day viewership rose 20% and 33% for CNN and HLN, respectively, among adults 25-54.
HBO is strong and has high-quality content in the pipeline
Time Warner has done an admirable job of keeping its premium HBO service at the forefront of television entertainment, and company management devoted ample time in the conference call to highlight the platform's strength.
First-quarter revenue from the HBO segment grew roughly 4% year over year to reach approximately $1.4 billion. The service gained subscribers, but the majority of the revenue increase was related to increased subscription prices. CEO Jeff Bewkes touted the company's strength in documentary films with titles like Going Clear and The Jinx, while also pointing to the the strong cultural pulls of its episodic lineup. Here's Bewkes on what HBO has to offer this year:
We are also off to a strong start for the new seasons of Veep, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and Silicon Valley. And we will follow those up with second seasons of True Detective and The Leftovers, with new shows like Ballers and The Brink and with an expansion of our relationship with Vice. And as good as the current lineup is, we are just as excited about the pipeline with shows like Westworld from JJ Abrams, Divorce, which will star Sarah Jessica Parker and a rock and roll drama from Martin Scorsese all coming to HBO in the near future.
Time Warner sees big potential in HBO Now and new distribution models
While cord-cutting continues to pose a potential threat to network and media companies like Time Warner, it also creates new opportunities to expand the audience base. Here's HBO CEO Richard Plepler on what the company's recently launched HBO Now service could do for the reach of the broader platform and the company at large:
Look, as we have said publicly, we expect our revenue growth to accelerate over the next years and we can certainly monetize our best performing affiliates to our advantage going forward. But we have said this -- we think there are 10 million to 15 million homes that are highly persuadable potentially to HBO subs and we are going to go after them. We are going to go after them with HBO Now. And we are going to go after them with our affiliates and the more we make clear how big that opportunity is with empirical data, I think the more responsive and receptive our partners are and that has certainly been our experience as we have taken the research in over the last few months.
The company indicates that HBO Now has gotten off to a strong start in terms of both subscriber numbers and usage. During the question and answer portion of the call, Bewkes mentioned that the company viewed Apple as a long-term partner in television. Following Bewkes' comment, Turner CEO John Martin pointed to recent deals with DISH Network's Sling and Sony as part of a broader push to establish relationships with multichannel video programming distributors and stated that new deals with other MVPDs were likely to follow.
Operating income and EPS growth will slow in Q2, but future looks strong
During the call, CFO Howard Averill reaffirmed the company's targets for fiscal 2015, stating that Time Warner would deliver annual earnings per share of between $4.60 and $4.70. The commitment to its earnings target comes even as the company expects greater headwinds from unfavorable foreign currency exchange rates. Here's Averill explaining why the company's second quarter in fiscal 2015 likely won't be as impressive as the first:
And based on today's rates, we now estimate approximately a $0.40 drag on adjusted EPS from FX [foreign exchange] in 2015. Looking more closely at the second quarter, we expect Warner's adjusted operating income to be down due to the timing of both TV availabilities of our theatrical product, as well as theatrical releases and associated P&A (production and advertising) spend. We will also have incremental spend at HBO to support the launch of HBO Now. As a reminder, last year's second quarter benefited from HBO's licensing arrangement with Amazon. We are currently in discussions with Amazon about the size and scope of our relationship. The outcome of those discussions could have an impact on our second quarter results and we will have more to say about that when the discussions conclude.
Despite predictions that the current fiscal period will have some bumps, Averill was adamant that Time Warner is on track for a solid year of EPS growth. Last year's adjusted EPS came in at $4.15, so hitting the bottom end of Time Warner's earnings target would equal roughly 11% growth.
Net debt increased due to focus on returning value to shareholders
Time Warner is in the midst of a big push to return cash to investors. Last quarter, it returned approximately $1.2 billion to shareholders in the form of share repurchases and dividend payouts, and Time Warner had $3.4 billion remaining of an initial $7 billion share repurchase authorization as of April 24. The focus on generating value for investors pushed the company's net debt up $330 million to roughly $20.2 billion. Here's CFO Howard Averill on the company's financial leverage and target for the rest of the year:
Our leverage ratio at the end of the quarter was 3 times. However, excluding the programming, restructuring and severance charges from the second half of 2014, our leverage ratio would have been 2.65 times, similar to the end of 2014 and slightly below our target leverage of 2.75 times. Looking forward, we remain committed to our balanced approach to capital allocation and expect to move closer to our leverage target over the remainder of the year.