We live in a digital media age in which a bewildering variety of outlets bombard us 24/7 with information and entertainment at the speed of fiber-optic light. Well-positioned companies can reap vast riches in media, but fast-changing technology and fickle consumer tastes make the industry a cutthroat proposition.
Let's examine two media colossi now in the news: Scripps Networks Interactive (SNI) and Viacom (VIA) - Get Report . Scripps reported earnings Monday before the opening bell; Viacom plans to report earnings on Thursday. Which is the best stock for your portfolio? We suggest you follow the lead of super investor Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway owns Viacom.
The PowerShares Dynamic Media ETF (PBS) - Get Report , made up of the common stocks of 30 U.S.-based media companies, is now up 2.8% year to date, compared to about 0.8% for the S&P 500. A few of the biggest media stocks, including Scripps and Viacom, have taken a beating lately over concerns that cable subscriptions are on a downward slope. In Viacom's case, these concerns are overblown, making it a bargain now.
Let's start our "Media Stock Smack Down" with Scripps.
SNI data by YCharts
Scripps Networks Interactive
On Monday morning before the markets opened, Scripps Networks Interactive released earnings results that beat analysts' expectations. Wall Street's consensus called for earnings per share of 97 cents; the company reported adjusted EPS of $1.06. The company reported revenue of $776.1 million, exceeding the estimate of $764 million. Management projected revenue guidance for 2015 where the top line is expected to grow on a year-over-year basis by 13%. But let's drill down for the real story.
Since Scripps Networks Interactive was spun off from old line E. W. Scripps Co. (SSP) - Get Report in 2008, Scripps Networks has forged several brand names under the general rubric of lifestyle media. Its bevy of popular channels include the DIY Network, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel and Great American Country.
Scripps Networks' platforms include television, digital, mobile, Internet satellite radio, magazines, and books. The company launched its Food Network in emerging Asian markets, to tap the region's growing infatuation with all things Western. In addition to the U.S., the Food Network already operates in the U.K., Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The Scripps spinoff epitomizes how financially struggling media companies have been splitting their low-growth print businesses from their entertainment units. The strategy looks good on paper, but not all spinoffs have succeeded, as many of these newly independent entities consistently post disappointing operating results.
One reason is that jettisoned publishing divisions once provided reliable -- albeit unspectacular -- revenue from subscriptions, advertising and classifieds.
To be sure, Scripps Networks so far has successfully emphasized media niches for a public that no longer exhibits monolithic taste. However, investors remain concerned that the company is overly reliant on cable viewers and lacks the media diversity of Viacom. This is a justifiable concern as consumers increasingly show fickle tastes. Indeed, several vulnerable stocks are ending the year in perilous shape and are poised for collapse.
Scripps' trailing-12-month price-to-earnings ratio is now 14, compared with a trailing P/E of 20.51 for the media sector as a whole, but shares have fallen 22% year to date, while the S&P 500 has risen 0.8%. The dividend yield is a paltry 1.7%. There are better places for your money, which brings us to...
VIA data by YCharts
Viacom operates various television networks including Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV, VH1, and Spike. The company also holds the celebrated Filmed Entertainment segment under the Paramount Pictures brand.
Viacom also is a significant supplier of content to pay TV, generating the majority of its earnings from cable networks. And it's aggressively moving into the digital realm.
Viacom this year inked a deal with e-commerce giant Amazon.com for distribution of a wide variety of archived Viacom-owned programming. Viacom also reached an agreement with Sony to carry Viacom's cable channels on Sony's Internet-based TV service, a deal that could signal the start of a new era of competition for entrenched cable and satellite providers.
Sony is entering the fall movie season with a huge hit in Spectre, the latest James Bond extravaganza. Movie studios increasingly rely on megabudget blockbusters -- so-called "tent poles" -- to sustain revenue and profits for the entire year. Sony regularly hits the jackpot with the iconic 007 franchise.
Viacom will report its next quarterly earnings results before the market opens on Thursday. Analysts have issued EPS estimates ranging from $1.45 to $1.56. Viacom reported EPS of $1.71 during the same quarter in 2014, which would indicate a year-over-year decline of about 11%. That largely explains why Viacom's stock is down 36% year to date. Cable revenue is down for all media companies, but it's a headwind that should prove temporary for a company as diversified as Viacom.
Viacom boasts one of the strongest balance sheets in the entertainment business. The company shoulders roughly half the level of debt of the companies in its sector. This healthy liquidity comes in handy, allowing Viacom to invest in new opportunities and better withstand the roller-coaster ride of its studio business.
Viacom is putting this cash to good use, through stock buyback programs. With a trailing P/E of 11, Viacom trades at a steep discount to its peers. However, to borrow a line from its highly lucrative Star Trek franchise, this company should live long and prosper. The robust dividend yield of 3.7% will provide steady income while you wait for shares to bounce back.
Viacom is a good buy now, but certain dangerous stocks are on a downward slope with no hope of ever bouncing back. Click here for a list of the world's worst stocks to own.
John Persinos is editorial manager and investment analyst at Investing Daily. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.