As big media stocks drift lower, Wall Street is waiting for a gust of inspiration to lift them back up.

For now, the hope is that a healthier ad market and improving financials will soon propel these stocks back to positive territory. With the market recently suffering from valuation worries and terror-related jitters, analysts and investors don't expect to see a rally until Wall Street starts seeing happier headlines. But the approaching earnings season could be just the ticket, these people say.

"Unless things get worse in the world, unless things get scarier," first-quarter earnings and the accompanying second-quarter outlook should dispel some of the gloom hanging over media stocks, says Schwab SoundView media analyst Jordan Rohan.

It won't be easy, though. Even an advertising resurgence will likely be taken with a grain of salt, given how year-ago performance was depressed by the beginning of the war in Iraq, and given that two of the big drivers for advertising sales this year -- the Summer Olympics and the election season -- are unlikely to come as a surprise.

"It's going to take good earnings results in the first quarter," adds a buy-side media analyst who is long radio and TV broadcasting stocks. "I don't think anything else could turn it around."

That would be a nice shift for investors in these shares. After all, the big names -- from Viacom ( VIA.B) and Time Warner ( TWX) to News Corp. ( NWS) and Clear Channel ( CCU) -- have marched lower since their January and February highs.

Meanwhile, Disney ( DIS), whose shares got a boost from Comcast's ( CMCSA) unwelcome tender offer in February, has fallen most of the way back to where it was trading before Comcast announced its intentions.

Further muddling the picture: While a round of first-quarter numbers and a positive outlook on the second quarter could improve the view, individual companies have their own stumbling blocks that complicate matters.

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