Investors intent on getting ahead of the media's digital push might take a look at
Wall Street hasn't spent much time analyzing the mid-cap European programming distributor. But Chairman Harry Sloan says Luxembourg-based SBS is at the forefront of the move to interactive and pay TV. The company is focusing on those areas just as U.S. media titans like
are pitching such advanced digital services as their ticket to sustainable growth.
"We've made a very significant entry into the digital landscape," says Sloan, who emphasizes that SBS doesn't view itself as a takeover candidate or as a seller of assets. The company does have a significant relationship with industry titan John Malone, through
Liberty Media International's
roughly 20% stake in SBS.
"The big opportunity is taking advantage of digitalization," Sloan adds while noting that channels are being created and financed by companies looking to play off strong brands and are increasing capacity.
Thanks to the company's performance, the stock has caught on a bit. In the last year, SBS has seen its share price rise from just under $30 to a recent $44.90.
SBS owns television and radio stations along with pay TV operations and digital channels in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Earlier this year, the company bought CMore pay TV operations throughout Scandinavia.
The $345 million CMore acquisition was accompanied by some smaller media property buys in Romania. SBS assets range from the Benelux countries and Scandinavia into Greece.
Sloan says the acquisition of CMore "has been an important catalyst for the company." With the pay TV service, SBS is far less dependent on stagnant European advertising markets. Subscriptions or pay TV revenue now accounts for some 35% of the company's revenue, compared to just 10% in 2004. Sloan hopes that number will rise to 50% in the near future, depending on market forces.
Sloan says that SBS will eye future acquisitions and is not in play. Of course, John Malone has said recently that his media holding company could be looking at some strategic buys. Sloan says that he is entirely comfortable with the current Liberty arrangement and that the two companies have a solid agreement looking forward.
As for the split-up plans recently discussed at
Clear Channel Communications
, Sloan says, "we haven't reached the size where we have to say we have to grow from decentralization."
Indeed, SBS remains mostly under the radar in the U.S. Management has made a few rounds in the investment community, which Sloan says has helped familiarize analysts with the company's operations. Sloan will ring the
opening bell on Monday ahead of first-quarter earnings.
The future for the company clearly lies in satellite, cable and wireless platform subscriptions, coupled with a traditional ad revenue stream from its TV and radio stations. "Scandinavia is ground zero for digital technology, and the company has staked out a strong position in pay TV and interactive offerings," Sloan says.
Cable operators are investing billions, and satellite platforms are invigorating growth in those areas. SBS has put itself front and center to capitalize on that growth.
The company has had the foresight to acquire crucial content rights. It owns two-thirds of sports rights in Scandinavia, including soccer, and buys content from the American film and TV market.
U.S. companies like
, whose balance sheets looks great now, will look better a few years down the road for having been savvy enough to invest in cable channel content development and digital production. But increasingly, Wall Street is likely to look with a jaundiced eye at other traditional broadcasting companies that haven't stepped up to the digital age.
"We're not sitting back and saying we're going to be in pay TV," Sloan says. "We've been anticipating the evolution and buying the necessary rights."