Media company Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB) has had a tough few years. The company, which owns Paramount Pictures, has seen its share price lose nearly 70% since 2014. Most don’t see it rising back toward those $88 per-share highs anytime soon.
However, VIAB reported its second-quarter results before the bell on Wednesday and the company’s earnings beat sent the stock 1% higher in pre-market trade. Viacom earnings revealed earnings per share of 92 cents on $3.15 billion in revenue, compared to estimates of 79 cents per share on revenue of $3.04 billion. The reaction was decidedly muted as most were expecting positive results. Although the company was able to post a beat, not everything was looking rosy.
CEO Bob Bakish was upbeat about the results saying, “Viacom continued to accelerate progress against its strategic priorities, delivering improvements across key metrics in the quarter. Our flagship brands increased audience share among important demos for the fourth consecutive quarter, and we saw sequential improvements in domestic advertising and affiliate revenue performance.”
Although the company’s results were in fact promising, they weren’t enough to convince me that a full-blown turnaround has taken hold.
For one, Paramount Pictures’ revenue was down 79% from the previous year. While some of that decline was explained by fewer releases, that’s a huge slide that investors should certainly be concerned about.
Another concern with the results was the fact that domestic subscribers were down, which took domestic affiliate revenues down 4%. That decline was offset by international affiliate revenue growth of 14%. But the fact that the firm is struggling to hold on to subscribers in its home country is worrying. Although key networks like MTV and BET saw ratings growth, overall ratings were hurt by the falling number of pay-TV subscribers.
VIAB Stock’s Future
There’s no question that Viacom’s second-quarter earnings were a step in the right direction, but I wouldn’t say they suggest that the firm is ready to navigate the quickly changing media landscape. There’s still a big question mark above VIAB’s future growth. Where will it come from? Is its current model sustainable?
To me, Viacom’s media networks unit is the most concerning. Not only are its key networks aimed at the younger generation — arguably the most challenging demographic on the planet — but they’re becoming antiquated. Reality TV is starting to take a back-seat to original programming from streaming services like Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) and Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN).
The company is working to diversify its businesses. It’s releasing a Broadway performance of the film Mean Girls this year and working to open theme parks in both the Middle East and China. While that’s a positive step, it means very little as far as revenue right now and likely won’t have much of an impact on the company’s bottom line for years to come.
What’s Next for VIAB?
Viacom is unfortunately competing against quite a few big-time names with a lot less content and cash in its arsenal. Not only does VIAB have to fend off firms like NFLX and Amazon, but the firm is also going against traditional media firms like Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS) and Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX) which has a market cap of $169 billion and $72 billion, respectively. Compare that to Viacom’s $13 billion and you have a David and Goliath situation.
If traders are questioning whether or not DIS and TWX have a solid future amid cord-cutting and streaming services, VIAB doesn’t look particularly enticing. Not only is VIAB much smaller, but the firm doesn’t have the huge library of hit content that its larger rivals do. Sure Viacom owns successful networks like MTV, but again, those networks are dependent on young people thinking the shows are cool. Viacom also has a handful of successful movie franchises like Mission Impossible and Transformers, but is that really enough to keep Paramount going?
Bottom Line on VIAB
VIAB stock might be doing better than analysts thought, but that doesn’t change the fact that the company’s future is still murky. Declining U.S. subscribers and the lack of a clear future plan is worrying.
There’s a chance VIAB could get caught up in merger-mania as a smaller media firm — but I wouldn’t buy based on that. Even if there were credible rumors — and there aren’t — going around about a Viacom takeover, any acquisition would likely get held up or even blocked by regulators.
As of this writing, Laura Hoy was long AMZN, NFLX and TWX.