For the first time in a while, Viacom (VIAB) investors can talk about the company's businesses rather than the uncertain future of its ownership structure.
Shares of the New York owner of MTV and Nickelodeon were gaining for a second-straight day on Friday as Viacom's renewed distribution deal with Dish Network (DISH) removed a major overhang on the stock. Of course, other concerns remain, most prominently how the estate of Sumner Redstone might eventually be divided and whether CEO Philippe Dauman will retain his position in light of opposition from Redstone's daughter, Shari.
Shares of Viacom were up 0.7% to $42.84 on Friday afternoon after surging nearly 14% on Thursday.
"Even after the big jump in the shares, there's some real discernable progress with Viacom," Wunderlich Securites media analyst Matthew Harrigan said. "If they can arrest the decline and stabilize the company, the stock is still a very good value here."
Viacom had been on a steady decline since mid-2014 as quarterly revenue on a comparative basis fell again in the first quarter, the fifth in a row. Sales for the three-month period ended Dec. 31 were $3.1 billion. With shares trading at 8.2 times earnings, Viacom is well under the value of the broader market. The benchmark S&P 500
Viacom is set to release earnings for its fiscal second quarter, ended March 31, on April 28.
Months of bad and sometimes salacious press accounts about Redstone, 92, had exacerbated a generally pessimistic outlook for Viacom. More than any other major U.S. media company, Viacom's largest networks, MTV and Nickelodeon, had been hard-hit by the transition by younger viewers to online offerings such as Netflix (NFLX) and Time Warner's (TWX) HBO NOW and away from cable TV.
Removing the uncertainty of a Dish distribution deal this week came just as MTV president Sean Atkins told investors Thursday that its flagship networks plan to put more emphasis on music, its founding theme, and that its MTV/VH-1, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central channels plan to spend more on short-form programming to go along with their traditional standard-length shows.
The deal with Dish also affords Viacom the opportunity to make its networks available for the satellite-TV operator's single and multistream online Sling TV product, which is a positive for both companies. Viacom needs MTV and Nickelodeon to be on as many screens as possible, and while Sling isn't the answer to all of Viacom's distribution challenges, its target audience of millennials is a fine fit for Viacom.
Dish, which has been losing subscribers, would prefer to retain programming, strengthening the overall value of its spectrum, much of which it would like to unload for a big payday.
To be sure, advertising declines remain a big concern at Viacom, and although details of the Dish deal weren't disclosed, Harrigan said he's not adding any so-called affiliate fee growth to the company's outlook. Nonetheless, Harrigan points out that before the Dish deal was made public, Viacom was trading as if it were to suffer 7.5% annual advertising contractions and no affiliate fee growth into its fiscal year 2022.
Yet, the company may indeed do better than that. So, while Viacom may not be a growth stock accelerating at a late-1990s clip, it may not be headed to zero either. With some breakthrough programming, the shares could reach $60 by early 2017, receiving a boost if the company can unload a minority stake in its Paramount Pictures, said the Wunderlich analyst.
"They still have a massive programming budget and reach a whole lot of eyeballs," Harrigan said. "So if they can show some creative vitality, this is very fixable."