"Under the Radar" is a daily feature that uncovers little-known companies worthy of investors' consideration. Check in at 5 every morning to find out about stocks that tend to beat their bigger brethren.Entertainment, like every other facet of American life, is quantified and benchmarked. And the process of measuring performance is a profitable business. When a studio needs to calculate its weekend box office gross or project how a movie will do on its opening night, it can rely on Portland, Ore.-based Rentrak ( RENT) to crunch the numbers. Rentrak was founded in 1977 as a video-distribution company, but back then it went by the name National Video. It started by selling video-store franchises and established a revenue sharing and distribution system that it called Pay-Per-Transaction. The model gained acceptance among studios, and Rentrak went public in 1988. Today, it gathers data on everything from on-demand video to mobile devices. The company's fiscal fourth-quarter results demonstrated improved pricing power. Although revenue was flat compared with the year-earlier period, net income increased 33% to $2.3 million and earnings per share improved 40% to 21 cents, helped by a lower share count. Rentrak boosted its net margin from 8% to 10%, proving that a niche focus can trump recessionary pressure. Rentrak's balance sheet inspires confidence. Over $35 million of cash reserves and zero debt reflect management's adherence to prudent growth and excess liquidity. The company had around $1 million in long-term debt obligations in the prior year's quarter, which it has paid off. Investors have recognized the company's financial strength and growth prospects. Its stock has surged 52% in 2009 and is now trading at a premium to the market. A price-to-earnings ratio of 37 makes Rentrak 25% more expensive than its average peer in the movie and entertainment industry. On the other hand, the high multiple indicates investors' optimism about future performance.
Other entertainment stocks with growth potential also trade at high multiples. For example, NetFlix ( NFLX) is trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 30 and has ascended 48% in 2009, whereas Blockbuster ( BBI) has tanked because of its reliance on an extinct distribution system. Rentrak estimates that it can now process live, linear television data from more than 10 million live set-top boxes. It can use that data to analyze demographics, creating valuable research for stations and advertisers. Rentrak's growth potential is tremendous and with a market value under $200 million, it's largely unknown to institutional investors. TheStreet.com Ratings gives Rentrak a "buy" recommendation.