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Disney Buyback Reflects Strength of Media Stocks: Media Roundup

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Blackouts, hacking scandals and threats to the pay-TV model be damned, the stocks of major U.S. media companies keep on rolling.

Led by Walt Disney (DIS), CBS (CBS) and 21st Century Fox (KMX), the S&P 500 Media Index has gained 30% this year, easily outdistancing the S&P 500 composite, which has advanced a nothing-to-scoff-at 18%, poised for its best year since 1997.

Disney has benefited from the strength of advertising at ABC and fees paid to carry ESPN to beat analysts' earnings forecast in each of the past nine quarters. While the films group has underperformed, Disney said Thursday it will buy back $6 billion to $8 billion of its stock beginning next year, a reflection of the company's health. Shares of the world's largest entertainment company rose 2.4% to close at $65.49, extending its 2013 advance to 32%.

But Disney isn't alone. Media company stocks have been energized by steady and nearly unbroken increases in profits and sales. CBS, for instance, has beaten analyst quarterly forecasts in 15 of the past 16 quarters. Behind those numbers are trends that repudiate, at least for the short term, the notion that content producers would struggle in the age of portable electronic devices and increasing sources of programming.

Even after media company have hit record highs, their stocks are being valued just slightly higher than the benchmark S&P 500, which trades at 16.1 times members' earnings. In most cases, analysts view these shares as not yet too expensive. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, CBS and Viacom are trading at 19 times earnings while Time Warner posts a valuation of 17 times and Disney is at 20 times. Meanwhile, 21st Century Fox, by virtue of its split from News Corp. (NWSA), comes in at a more weighty 40 times, according to Bloomberg data.

James M. Marsh, media analyst at Piper Jaffray, says media companies are successfully obtaining affiliate fees from local television station owners and retransmission payments from cable- and satellite operators. Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN), the two biggest purveyors of video-on-demand programming, are being viewed as friendly rivals, rather than sharks intent on breaking the business model that has sustained content producers for 30 years.

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