Cheers keep ringing out for
World Wrestling Entertainment
The Stamford, Conn., media company has seen its shares rise 55% to a recent $17 and change, putting them within a dollar of a 52-week high. The rise has come as other media stocks have languished.
What's the secret? Beyond the stock's 5.6% dividend yield, there's a growth story. Finance chief Mike Sileck says attendance revenue at WWE events is up 15% year over year, and TV ratings are up between 10% and 15%. Sileck says the company, whose offerings already are shown on NBC Universal's USA Network and
UPN, will continue on the CW network when it starts up later this year.
The bulk of WWE revenue comes from live and televised entertainment. The company says revenue on that side of the business rose last quarter to $60.4 million from $57.2 million a year ago. It attributed the gains to successful international live events and to an increase in pay-per-view buys.
But old-fashioned TV distribution is the engine that drives this train. For future growth to remain strong, Sileck says the company will "continue to break into TV in new markets."
Wrestling, always popular in the U.K., is now a huge hit in more unlikely destinations like Italy, where the company's programming is piped into homes through Sky Italia. The TV platform is essential to the company because, as Sileck puts it, "It is the base for consumers to get comfortable" with the WWE. He adds that TV shows are the trigger for the company to get willing consumers to attend live events and branch out into merchandise, DVDs and special pay-per-view events.
The company has also identified other markets, including Eastern Europe, South America and India, where WWE hopes to make other large impressions by brokering deals with television operators.
The company enjoys some 6 million pay-per-view buys per fiscal year. WWE says most viewings come at a cost to consumers of between $35 and $50. That translated into $19.1 million in revenue last quarter, up from $15.5 million a year earlier.
On a year-to-date basis, home video revenues are up 136% through the company's fiscal third quarter, a number that could make
executives weep. The animation company and other entertainment players that lean heavily on the DVD market have been sideswiped by heavy DVD returns on slowing sales.
WWE says it has distribution in all the big-box retailers, including
, though Sileck concedes that the company has still to tie the knot with the
of the world. A three-disc lifetime retrospective of Bret Hart's career proved popular to the tune of 175,000 DVDs sold. An epic treatment of Hulk Hogan is expected out soon.
What all of these things mean, according to Sileck, is that the company's core constituents are more involved than ever in the company and its brands. As wrestling heroes including John Bradshaw Layfield -- a
celebrity investor contributor to
, by the way -- cross over into pop culture, more casual fans are lured into the ring. Witness the company's partnership with
on a new feature film,
See No Evil
, starring wrestler Kane, which is due in theaters May 19.
And some new developments should help future growth. While some content providers have decided to partner with individual mobile-phone carriers, WWE is set to announce content-distribution deals with virtually all of them on May 2.
All of which is linked to another big opportunity for the WWE: its 75,000-hour film library. The company says its video content is streamed 40 million to 50 million times a month and that it enjoys 13.5 million unique visitors to its Web site each month as well.