Thursday, February 11, 2016

Media Stocks Caught In Downdraft

Four big media companies -- Walt Disney, Comcast, Time Warner and Viacom -- continued to feel the effect of sharply lower stock prices on Wednesday.

After a day when Viacom lost 21%, it took another 4.7% decline on Wednesday to close at $31.37. Walt Disney sank 3.8% to $88.85. On Tuesday, before it released its quarterly earnings, Disney was slightly up 0.2% -- before sinking over 4% in aftermarket trading.

Comcast Corp. -- owner of NBCUniversal -- lost 4.1% to $55.81, after declines earlier in the week. On Monday it had been trading at the high of $60. Time Warner closed down 5% to $60.07. On Monday it opened at $67.81.

But two other big media companies did not suffer to the same degree -- 21st Century Fox was up 0.8% to $24.33; CBS, adding 0.5% to $42.88.

Media Post reports analysts point to some concerns over future weaker affiliate revenue for media companies with established cable networks.

The Dow Jones U.S. Broadcasting & Entertainment Index declined 2% on the day to 960.61. That index has been down 6% since the close of the markets on February 4.

Since early August, when Disney first disclosed subscriber declines for its ESPN network, the index has declined 20%.

What unites all of the companies is the specter of cord cutting.

While only a small number of American homes have stopped paying for cable entirely, CNN reports some have opted for smaller packages -- so-called "skinny bundles" -- that don't automatically include channels like ESPN.

Wall Street analysts sometimes call this "cord shaving." It has pinched the bottom lines of media companies that depend on per-subscriber revenue for their channels.

Disney CEO Bob Iger told investors Tuesday that "in the past couple of months we have actually seen an uptick in the ESPN subs, which is encouraging."

Year-over-year, however, there has been a decline in the number of homes receiving ESPN. Disney has not provided exact figures.

Iger and other media executives have decried over-the-top predictions about an impending unspooling of the cable bundle. The business is fundamentally healthy, they say, as most households see the value of a monthly cable plus broadband subscription.

Iger said Tuesday that the predictions are "more dire than they should be."

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