NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It wasn't without a degree of awkwardness that Time Warner (TWX) reported second-quarter earnings just over 12 hours after former suitor 21st Century Fox (FOXA) retracted its $80 billion acquisition bid. Any inkling of financial weakness from Time Warner would have made CEO Jeff Bewkes look foolish for rejecting Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch's solicitation.
For Fox too, which reported after the bell Wednesday, softness in growth would have made the offer's withdrawal look like a desperate attempt to save face after over-estimating buying power.
But both companies averted such embarrassments by each reporting strong respective quarters. Time Warner, buoyed by HBO shows Game of Thrones and True Detective and home entertainment sales of The Hobbit and The Lego Movie, reported earnings of 98 cents a share on sales 3% higher year over year to $6.8 billion. Both measures topped analysts' estimates.
Fox, meanwhile, earned 42 cents a share over the June-ended quarter from 31 cents a share a year earlier, while revenue spiked 17% to $8.42 billion, driven by growth in filmed entertainment (with the quarter's hits X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Fault in Our Stars).
Though the reports pointed to overall financial robustness, the companies still harbor vulnerabilities in certain divisions and as technology's evolution continues to throw curveballs to the media industry. In the most recent quarter, for example, television divisions remained weak: Fox's segment recorded a 20% drop in EBITDA on higher production and content costs, while Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting division reported ratings weakness.
Analysts weighed in on the risks threatening Time Warner and Fox's long-term growth plans as standalone companies.
Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker on Time Warner (Outperform, PT $95-$105)
"This is a tough one, but we still like it... TWX's Q3 ad trends seem to be showing some signs of deceleration (when compared to Q2), which is sort of counter to what we heard from other media companies (not that anyone is seeing significant strength by any means). Management attributed weakness to ratings as well as lack of demand.
"Remember, TNT and TBS are still skewed towards acquired programming, which is the big drag here. Why and when will Turner "turn"? We can't pinpoint the exact timing, but we are encouraged with recent ratings -- and believe that better monetization should happen next year when originals are 40% of programming vs. the current 20%.
"We like the risk-reward proposition as well as the long-term visibility for TWX, and believe there is likely upside to numbers due to affiliate fee growth and cost controls."
Jefferies analyst John Janedis on 21st Century Fox (Buy, PT $43)
"Current risks to our PT include: weakening in the overall macro environment, continued weakness at FOX coupled with increasing programming costs, F/X fluctuations negatively impacting FIC/STAR, and MVPD consolidation."
"Wildcards will be ad growth across segments, with commentary consistent with peers around the tenor of the market. Within local TV, autos and telecom are soft, though we're hopeful the former comes back to the market in early fall."
Sterne Agee analyst Vasily Karasyov on Time Warner (Buy, PT $100)
"Soft ratings not a positive but increasingly less relevant. We estimate that subscription revenue will account for 66% of FY14 Turner revenue growth compared to 52% in FY13. We see Turner's revenue structure moving closer to DIS' networks (75% of growth from affiliate fees) and farther away from SNI (15%) and DISCA (23%) as a positive."
Jefferies analyst John Janedis on Time Warner (Buy, PT $80)
"TWX reported solid 2Q results, but with a weak ad environment exacerbated by ratings issues, expected investments in programming/ marketing at Turner and HBO, and a weak film slate in the back half of the year, we are lowering our 2H EPS ests. We reiterate our Buy rating on TWX as we believe the LT story is intact, but near-term catalysts appear limited.
"We are lowering our 3Q and 4Q EPS to $0.94/ $1.11 vs. our prior $0.99/$1.18... We are lowering our estimates across the board - at Turner on weaker ad and greater programming spend (still up HSD for the yr), at HBO on tough content comp and increased spend, and, at WB a tough film/BO comp last year."
Wedbush analyst James Dix on 21st Century Fox (Outperform, PT $40 from $38)
"TV advertising declines in F4Q and expected for F1Q; and continuing high cable opex growth, expected to be ~17% in FY2015. We estimate that TV segment fell short of FY2014 EBITDA targets by ~$175m, on falling ratings in prime time. Although FOX network hit its upfront pricing targets, it -- along with other broadcast networks -- fell short of its goals for the volume of ad commitments. This presents opportunity, but also greater risk, depending on how schedule performs and ad macro unfolds."
BMO Capital Markets analyst Daniel Salmon on 21st Century Fox (Outperform, $40)
"Risks for FOXA shares include 1) Fox Sports 1 and other new cable networks gaining traction at
a slower pace than expected, and 2) an inability to offset American Idol declining ratings with
-- Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.