(Story updated to add JPMorgan Chase initiated coverage of Lions Gate Entertainment Tuesday with an "overweight" rating .)
BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- The movie business is a crap shoot. Witness the handwringing over the expected $200 million bath Walt Disney (DIS ) is expected to take on its big-budget box-office flop "John Carter" that opened this week.
Most studios, Disney's included, now rely on their deep-pocketed, conglomerate parents for an allowance so they can continue to be free to gamble on making their next big franchise hit, which in Disney's case includes "Pirates of the Carribbean," now in development for the fifth film in the series.
And just witness the "Harry Potter" sequels that keep on giving to producer and distributor Warner Bros. parent Time Warner (TWX), in the form of billions from film sequels to DVD sales, books and related consumer products. But Time Warner's most reliable income sources are its Turner and HBO network broadcast businesses.So the studios will keep on trying, but the media industry isn't quite the big risk it was only a few years ago, as blockbuster movies are more the frosting on the cake for these companies, since their broadcast industry cash flow has allowed most to build themselves up into conglomerates where losses in one sector can be offset by gains elsewhere. Disney is a prime example. Referred to by insiders as the "mouse house," for its Mickey Mouse "franchise," identity, it's really a corporate octopus, with its tentacles in businesses ranging from its famous theme parks and movies, to cruise ships, radio and cable network programming, and the ESPN sports network. One of the few remaining firms where write-offs from a failure hurts for more than one fiscal quarter is Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF - Get Report), which gets a significant amount of revenue from its films, although it also creates content for other venues. It's eagerly anticipating the release this weekend of its highly rated "The Hunger Games," because it will help it pay for its recent acquisition of Summit Entertainment, producer and owner of the hugely successful "Twilight" series of vampire films. Although share-price returns for the leading media companies are relatively modest this year, the world's insatiable appetite for entertainment in all forms should keep the leaders in good stead long term, at least according to analysts, who give mostly positive ratings to these companies, based on their earnings prospects. Here's a look eight of the leading companies in the media and entertainment industry in descending order of market value: