If there's one reason to like Martha, it's Susan.
Wall Street isn't too bullish on
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
these days. The stock's valuation readings are through the roof, even with shares 40% off their 52-week high. Most analysts polled by Thomson First Call rate Martha Stewart Living a sell.
But with the company due to post first-quarter numbers Tuesday morning -- Wall Street expects a 29-cent-a-share loss on $38 million in revenue -- investors might do well to set aside the ankle bracelet jokes and consider Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's strong points.
Start with CEO Susan Lyne, who has helped broker three high-profile deals so far.
The company's keeper since November of last year, Lyne came to Martha Stewart Living shortly after having been unceremoniously dumped from ABC, where she was president from 2002 through May 2004.
, which had its own management issues at the time, cleaned house at the network, leaving Lyne -- who had championed the development of
-- out in the cold.
Newly assembled ABC leadership fawned over their new programming at last year's Upfront in one of the most open displays of schadenfreude in recent television business history.
A year later, Lyne has been instrumental in inking some important deals for Stewart.
Those deals start with two new TV shows for Martha: a syndicated talk show through
NBC Universal, for daytime TV, and an NBC network twist on Donald Trump's
, for prime time. Both are scheduled to hit airwaves this fall.
Though some Martha Stewart Living skeptics have already written off the deals as all sizzle and no steak, some observers warn that media investors would be unwise to ignore deals that could build brand value.
"There's a great amount of buzz around both programs and they should see decent tune-ins for the premieres," says Jordan Breslow, director of national broadcast research at
Matt Seiler, president of PHD USA, a media buying and planning arm of
, added that "there's huge energy and Martha's made an amazing re-entry. It's really positive and Susan Lyne's presence at the company is nothing but good."
Without citing specific numbers, Breslow suggests that the syndicated Martha offering is achieving strong clearance numbers, indicating rights are selling well across multiple stations across the country. Where
The Apprentice: Martha Stewart
is concerned, Breslow suggests there are plenty of timeslots the show could successfully fill on NBC.
Then there's the latest: a four-year, $30 million deal with satellite radio player
for which Omnimedia will also see a chunk of ad revenue and bonus income for raising subscription numbers. The deal for Stewart's own channel doesn't approach the figures Sirius shelled out to Howard Stern or the National Football League. But the play seems like a smart one given the possibility it has to hit a demographic that radio has traditionally ignored: women who listen to radio in their cars.
Martha's name value aside, Lyne is the perfect fit to improve the company because she brings the TV and publishing experience necessary to make the right choices, broker advantageous deals on behalf of Martha and avoid programming missteps along the way. Now investors will be hoping to see more deals that help the company build up its finances and justify the rich stock valuation.