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Is Oprah Worth More Than Google? (GOOG, DISCA, PG, CMCSA, NWS, TWX, VIA, CBS, LEE, NYT, GCI, MNI)


Everyone knows that Oprah Winfrey is one of the wealthiest celebrities in the world, but is her name and face actually worth more than the brand of Internet search engine Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG)?

We’re not talking raw money in the bank here, of course. By last tally, Oprah’s personal net worth was about $2.4 billion. Google, according to current pricing, has a market value that dwarfs that of about $157 billion. But when it comes to value – that is, which name can generate more cash for the cost – Oprah may have a clear edge.

The current Price-to-Earnings, or P/E, ratio on Google is 23. Discovery Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: DISCA) — which will soon launch the Oprah Winfrey Network — has a P/E of 26. These media giants both run in slightly different circles so there’s no direct comparison, but as of right now it appears that Oprah has the edge

The daytime TV talk show queen’s deal with Discovery Communications to create her own TV network called OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) has gotten a lot of press, and has helped drive up DISCA shares about 17% year to date even as the market is about flat with where we were on January 1.  Discovery has a 50% stake in the network, and the company recently announced it has signed a major, multi-year advertising deal with consumer products giant The Procter & Gamble Company (NYSE: PG). The OWN network is set to debut in January 2011.

It’s not that Google isn’t a recognizable brand or that the company isn’t doing a good job branching out with products like its Android smartphone operating system or its Chrome web browser. But when it comes to price-to-earnings valuation, Oprah is apparently the bigger name.

On a broader note for the media industry, there’s a pretty wide range of valuations among various publicly traded companies. Many of the biggest media titans, including Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ: CMCSA), Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (NASDAQ: NWS), Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) and Viacom, Inc. (NYSE: VIA), trade between 11 and 15 times earnings. That’s slightly below the valuation of the S&P 500, which now trades at just over 17 times earnings.  But take CBS Corporation (NYSE: CBS), which trades at a whopping 45 times earnings. For some reason, that network is worth more to investors.

If we look into more specialized media stocks such as newspapers, we see an even wider range of P/E ratios that include some overpriced stocks and some downright bargains. The two most expensive when it comes to P/E ratios are Lee Enterprises, Incorporated (NYSE: LEE), publishers of newspapers including the St. Louis Post Dispatch, which trades at 17.4 times earnings, and The New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT), which trades at 13 times earnings. Gannett Co. Inc. (NYSE: GCI), publishers of the USA Today, trades at 9.5 times earnings, which is relatively cheap by industry standards.  But the hands-down value in this space is The McClatchy Company (NYSE: MNI), publishers of The Miami Herald.  The stock trades at just 4.3 times earnings, making it very inexpensive by comparison.

Of course, valuation is just one measure of a stock, and as such it should not be used as an exclusive tool for stock selection or what a company is worth.  But valuation, or P/E ratio, is a good way to know if a company is wildly overvalued compared to its peers. 

And if something seems out of whack to you — like when Oprah is worth more than Google — you might want to take a second look.  

As of this writing, Jim Woods did not own a position in any of the companies named here.

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