Viacom Inc. (VIAB) is in the middle of a turnaround. It's just that the media world may be turning even faster.
The New York-owner of MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central as well as the Paramount Pictures reported an improved financial results in the third quarter compared to the same period a year earlier but a forecast for continued declines in pay-TV subscribers through 2018 sent its stock tumbling.
Viacom shares were falling 3.6% on Thursday to $23.73, extending its 2017 loss to 37%.
Ad-sales, long a sore point, did show signs of recovery in the quarter even as subscribers to Viacom's cable networks fell 3%. For 2018, CEO Bob Bakish said the fees Viacom receives from pay-TV operators are likely to fall at a percentage rate in the mid-single digits.
While CEO Bob Bakish was able to secure a new carriage agreement this month with Charter Communications Inc. (CHTR) , Viacom has struggled to secure increases in subscriber fees unlike owners of broadcast and sports networks such as Walt Disney Co. (DIS) and Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. (FOXA) . Bakish said Viacom wouldn't begin to see growth from so-called affiliate fees until 2019. Those fees, which remain the bedrock of cable-TV companies such as Viacom, fell 3% in the September quarter.
For the present, the $936 million in ad sales that Viacom generated from its U.S. operations during its fourth quarter were even with the same total a year ago, making for the best result in three years. In 2016, ad sales for the September quarter fell 6% compared with the same period in 2015.
Viacom posted adjusted earnings of 77 cents a share for the quarter, a 12% increase from the same period a year earlier but shy of the FactSet consensus forecast of 86 cents. The miss was partly due to a $59 million expense related to ending a film financing deal with China's Shanghai Film Group and Huahua Media.
Revenue of $3.32 billion, however, exceeded Wall Street expectations of $3.24 billion, enough for a 3% increase.
To offset subscriber declines at cable and satellite providers, Viacom this week joined with other owners of nonsports networks to make their channels available on Philo Inc., a pay-TV platform that had largely been focused on college students. For as little as $16 per month, subscribers can get access to an array of networks owned by Viacom, Discovery Communications Inc. (DISCA) , AMC Networks Inc. (AMCX) and others.
Philo doesn't include Disney's ESPN, the most expensive cable-TV network, nor the four major broadcast networks. All told, subscriber increases from online pay-TV services have been slow and Viacom has yet to be included on some new direct-to-consumer platforms such as YouTube TV, launched earlier this year by Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) .
Since being promoted a year ago, Bakish has reorganized Viacom to focus on its six largest cable networks and Paramount Pictures. In addition to hiring new heads at some networks, Bakish brought in Hollywood veteran Jim Gianopulos, former chief of 20th Century Fox, to revive Paramount, which had suffered a string of money-losing busts.
Film revenue remained weak as earnings adjusted for some costs totaled just $16 million, falling short of analyst expectations for $66 million, according to Jefferies media analyst John Janedis.
Paramount's film financing, though, remains a work in progress. Viacom earlier this month said it had secured new financing to replace Shanghai Film and Huahua, which had agreed last year to fund as much as $1 billion in Paramount Pictures productions over the next three years. Bakish said Paramount will continue to pursue additional financing sources in 2018.
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