Disney Shines, AMC Profit Falls Short, Time Warner Slips: Media Roundup (Update 1)

Updated from 3:01 p.m. EST to provide earnings information on Walt Disney.


NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Walt Disney (DIS) was slipping in after-hours trading even as the world's largest entertainment company posted profit for its fiscal fourth-quarter that exceeded analyst forecasts powered by growth at the company's parks and interactive divisions. Shares have gained 35% this year.

Net income rose 4% to $1.4 billion, or 77 cents a share, from $1.2 billion, or 68 cents, a year earlier, Burbank, California-based Disney said today in a statement. Analysts were expecting 76 cents a share, according to a the average of a Bloomberg survey of 27 analysts. Revenue jumped 7.3% to $11.6 billion, exceeding an average forecast of $11.4 billion.

Disney's Media Networks group posted a 1% increase in revenue to $4.9 billion while the Park & Resorts group reported an 8% gain in sales to $3.7 billion. Even Disney's film studios, which took a writedown tied the poor box office showing of "The Lone Ranger" grew 7% to $1.5 billion.

Looking ahead, Disney said it plans to push back the release of "Star Wars: Episode VII," the first new installment in the world famous science fiction blockbuster that the company led by its CEO Bob Iger acquired last year as part of its $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm. Iger said the Star Wars film is slated to debut on Dec. 18, 2015.

Shares were falling 1.7% in after-hours trading to $65.99. Disney lost 2.7% in regular trading to close at $67.15.

In an indication of the increasingly powerful position that Netflix (NFLX) holds within pay-television, Disney said earlier on Thursday that it agreed to create four, 13-episode television series for the movie-streaming platform. The partnership, which will feature Marvel characters such as "Daredevil," is expected to generate programming for use in 2015, the companies said in a statement. 

The made-for-Netflix series will take place in the "gritty world of heroes and villains of Hell's Kitchen, New York," the companies said, focused on the characters "Jessica Jones," "Iron Fist" and "Luke Cage." Put those down on your calendar.

AMC Networks (AMCX) declined Thursday as the maker of "Breaking Bad" and "Walking Dead" posted third-quarter profit that fell short of analysts' forecasts, prompting concern that the cable-TV operator is investing too much in original programming. Shares of AMC tumbled 5.8% to $68.51, paring the stock's 2013 advance to 38%.

AMC, which also owns IFC, Sundance Channel and WE tv in addition to its flagship station, reported net income of $58.1 million for the three-month period ended Sept. 30, or 80 cents a share. Analysts were expecting, on average, earnings of $63.3 million, or 87 cents a share.

However, Bernstein Research analyst Todd Juenger urged investors to look past the profit miss and focus on revenue, which grew 19% in the quarter to $395 million. Additionally, advertising revenue increased 36%. The decline in profit, as the company was quick to say in its earnings statement, was due largely to legal costs tied to AMC's squabble last year with Dish Network  (DISH) over fees and digital rights.

Juenger, who rates AMC an "outperform" with a 12-month price target of $77, said investors outght to focus on the potential that CEO Josh Sapan can unleash as AMC takes over Chellomedia, the international division of John Malone's Liberty Global  (LBTYA). The deal. valued at 750 million euros ($1.035 billion), will afford AMC the means to distribute its movies and entertainment programming to channels reaching 390 million households in 138 countries.

The Chellomedia acquisition is a "natural step in the transformation to a fully realized, global media company," Juenger wrote in an investor report published today. Nonetheless, the Bernstein analyst said investors are anxious to determine "the natural rate of growth of this company."

Time Warner (TWX) fell for a second day as the owner of HBO and TBS forecast a percentage earnings growth for the current quarter in the mid-teens, matching rather than beating analysts' expectations. Time Warner is likely to be hampered by increased programming costs as well as slowing advertising growth at its news division and internationally, wrote Deutsche Bank media analyst Douglas Mitchelson in a report published on Wednesday. 

In other words, there is no short-term catalyst for investors already well aware that the shares are trading at their highest valuation in at least three years, and that the stock has already enjoyed a very nice 2013. Time Warner shares dropped 3.4% to close at $65.38.

-- By Leon Lazaroff in New York

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