Media stocks are enjoying quite the revival right now. The advertising market is set to come surging back as heavily marketed restaurants such as travel and restaurants get rolling again. And the rise of streaming has offered media companies all sorts of new ways to monetize their content.
It’s not all good news for the sector, however. While a rising tide is lifting most boats at the moment, not all the media stocks will be winners. Every Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) or Spotify (NYSE:SPOT) that gains market share is taking away audience and revenues away from legacy media. There are only so many hours in the day to listen to or watch content. And there are only so many advertising dollars and subscription sales to be had.
With that in mind, it’s time to sort through the winners and losers in the media space. And, unfortunately, these seven media stocks are likely to see their recent gains reverse in coming months:
- ViacomCBS (NASDAQ:VIAC)
- AMC Networks (NASDAQ:AMCX)
- Hemisphere Media Group (NASDAQ:HMTV)
- Chicken Soup For The Soul (NASDAQ:CSSE)
- IMAX (NYSE:IMAX)
- Genius Brands (NASDAQ:GNUS)
- Color Star (NASDAQ:CSCW)
Media Stocks to Avoid: ViacomCBS (VIAC)
Let’s start this with a quick question. Which is more valuable: The world’s largest social network and second largest online advertising platform, or a collection of aging cable TV channels such as MTV and Comedy Central?
If you took cable TV, you’re in good company. VIAC stock has inexplicably tripled over the past six months, and is now worth as much on both an earnings and enterprise value/EBITDA basis as Facebook (NASDAQ:FB).
Is there any possible justification for Viacom being worth three times as much as it was in November? You can probably already guess the answer: A short squeeze. 19% of VIAC’s stock has been shorted, so savvy traders have taken advantage of that to ram shares up to the moon.
At the end of the day, though, ViacomCBS simply isn’t a good business in the digital world. The network TV channels such as CBS lose relevancy with every passing year. And the cable package continues to lose value as well as cord-cutting inexorably continues. There is still some value in Viacom’s legacy assets such as MTV and BET. But it’s not a whole lot. It’s certainly not as much as Facebook and Instagram’s value on a comparative basis.
People are now paying 23x earnings for VIAC stock. That’s even with analysts projecting that earnings will outright decline by double-digits over the next 5 years. Paying a premium price for a shrinking business? That’s not going to end well.
AMC Networks (AMCX)
Please note this is not the movie theater chain, but rather a cable TV content producer. Given the similar name, however, it appears traders may be mixed up. There is also gargantuan short interest — currently 29% — in AMCX stock, which has set off a massive squeeze despite thoroughly unappealing fundamentals.
AMC Networks is most well-known for the AMC channel, though it operates others such as BBC America and SundanceTV. It has produced a string of big hit shows that have kept viewer interest in the flagship AMC channel strong.
However, like most content companies, AMC is now trying to transition to streaming. And it’s simply unclear if AMC has a broad enough platform to stand out in a wildly competitive space.
At a low enough valuation, it may have made sense for a larger media company to acquire AMC Networks. But now the stock is going for 17x trailing earnings, which is pretty rough given that earnings have been falling over the past five years and revenues aren’t trending well either.
At $20 or even $30, AMCX stock made a lot of sense as a deep value play. Up here at $70, however, investors should thank the short squeeze crowd for getting the price to this elevated level. Because this is a rare opportunity to sell a fading media franchise at a premium price.
Hemisphere Media Group (HMTV)
Hemisphere falls in a similar group to Viacom and AMC Networks. It’s another media company that has primarily lived off the past distribution regime. In a world of cable TV, a company like Hemisphere or Viacom made sense. In an increasingly digital future, however, it’s a tougher sell.
One edge over Viacom is that Hemisphere has a strong niche; it serves Spanish-language content. Given the favorable demographic trend there, you can get the appeal of assets such as Cinelatino, a large Spanish movie channel. It also owns the largest TV station in Puerto Rico, among other brands. If it weren’t for the streaming threat, this could be a solid franchise.
The other issue is, of course, valuation. HMTV stock has doubled since November, putting it at an awfully steep 40x forward earnings. You can pay 40x earnings for some digital-first assets, but Hemisphere is not that. And, even that earnings estimate might be generous.
As it is, Hemisphere lost money each of the past four years, and that was prior to the pandemic. This seems like a marginal niche business that could work at the right price; however, it makes no sense with HMTV stock having shot up from $7 to $14 already.
Chicken Soup For The Soul (CSSE)
The first Chicken Soup for the Soul book came out in 1993. In the following years, the Chicken Soup brand launched dozens of other highly successful self-help and inspirational book offerings.
Nowadays, the books are much less prominent than they used to be. However, Chicken Soup the brand hasn’t disappeared. In fact, the company has launched a variety of products such as packaged foods and pet foods to monetize the brand.
However, the existing publicly traded company now, Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, is focused primarily on television. So, to be clear, this isn’t an investment in the books or other legacy products; this is a play on video streaming.
Chicken Soup has produced a good deal of video content in line with its brand. It streams this online using an ad-supported model for monetization. In theory, this could be a decent business. There’s always some demand for free content for people that don’t want to pay for more subscriptions. However, so far, the business has lost large sums of money on modest sales.
There’s little to justify the recent 150% run-up in the price of CSSE stock.
I’m sure a good portion of you had no idea Chicken Soup for the Soul was still in business. Same goes for IMAX. Once the owners of a hot movie format in the 1990s and early 2000s, you could be forgiven for thinking that IMAX had long ago disappeared.
Yet, the company still lives on.
Not only does it live, in fact. Traders have bid up IMAX stock to well above pre-pandemic levels. That’s even as IMAX understandably lost a ton of money during the pandemic.
IMAX has long been a niche service. Theater operators have to assign a separate screen to IMAX, limiting the amount of adoption. The IMAX company also takes a large portion of ticket sales, causing theater operators to have to charge much more for IMAX screenings as opposed to traditional movie tickets. And, in case you hadn’t heard, the cinema business is struggling right now, particularly as movie studios release films directly to streaming while bypassing cinemas altogether.
IMAX doesn’t have a bad balance sheet, so it should be able to survive the pandemic. However, it’s downright silly that IMAX stock now trades for $21 when it was only worth $16 even before the pandemic started. Some of these re-opening trades are really getting out of hand lately.
Genius Brands (GNUS)
Let’s cut to the chase: Genius Brands is not an intelligent investment choice. Genius, like Chicken Soup for the Soul, is trying to build a niche video business. And, I’d argue, Genius is in an even worse position than Chicken Soup.
While CSSE stock is significantly overvalued, you can at least see the possibility of a decent small business there.
Genius, by contrast, has generated almost no momentum with its shows aimed at kids. It tends to sign a celebrity to make a show, such as one featuring basketball icon Shaquille O’Neal awhile ago. Similarly, Genius just lined up some Roblox (NYSE:RBLX)-themed program. However, these sorts of one-off programming things tend to barely create a ripple in an overly crowded media world.
The long story short is that Genius continues to generate paltry revenues and large operating losses. The stock tends to pop from time to time on press releases but there’s nothing here yet indicating that the business is about to become consistently profitable.
Color Star (CSCW)
Smaller isn’t always better. Traders may be drawn to Color Star as it’s a true penny stock. Shares currently go for $1 each and the market capitalization is just $50 million or so. There’s also some short interest, suggesting that this is the sort of thing that r/WallStreetBets traders might like.
That said, there’s a good reason the stock continues to flounder: This simply isn’t a proven business.
What is Color Star, though? Last fall, it launched its Color World platform that aims to provide online educational services. It hopes to do this using so-called “star teachers” and will lean heavily on celebrities such as actors and musicians to drive client usage. To that end, Color Star has inked deals with celebrities such as Korean popular music “K-pop” stars.
As of yet, however, there’s no indication that Color Star’s celebrity-driven online media and education platform is going anywhere quickly. The company also has various other initiatives. It just partnered with an American movie studio, for example to promote videos and related online content such as mobile games, for example.
Traders should know that Color Star recently reorganized its business model. Previously, it was involved in the concrete business, and it also had a service for teaching children’s music education online. Both of these apparently didn’t take off. Not surprisingly, the company has generated no revenues in recent quarters, is running up large losses and has only modest financial resources left.
Traders should, as a result, be wary of CSCW stock.
On the date of publication, Ian Bezek held a long position in FB and SPOT stock.
Ian Bezek has written more than 1,000 articles for InvestorPlace.com and Seeking Alpha. He also worked as a Junior Analyst for Kerrisdale Capital, a $300 million New York City-based hedge fund. You can reach him on Twitter at @irbezek.