Advertising sales may be sinking at most media companies. But AOL-Time Warner (AOL) insists it's riding the wave.
In a Wednesday meeting with analysts following the release of
the company's first-quarter financial results, the media and entertainment conglomerate said it was confident that its advertising business would strengthen in the second half of the year. That stands in sharp contrast to media rivals such as
, many of which have gone from expecting a second-half rebound to confessing that the outlook for the back half of the year is barely visible.
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AOL-Time Warner's comments reflect the company's belief that its ability to package multiple media assets on behalf of marketers insulates it from the slowing economy's advertising decline. But analysts' questions reflect lingering
skepticism about the company's self-proclaimed invulnerability.
Companywide, AOL-Time Warner says its advertising and commerce revenue hit $2.1 billion in the first quarter of 2001, up 10% from a year earlier. AOL-Time Warner executives also reminded analysts that advertising is only part of the company's story: Subscription revenue amounted to $3.9 billion companywide in the first quarter, up 9% from a year ago. Content and other revenue grew 8% to $3.2 billion.
The company's bullish comments came well before the
50-basis-point rate cut, which sent the markets soaring. Wall Street believes lower rates will boost media stocks by loosening advertisers' grips on their wallets. AOL-Time Warner's shares, which were up about $2 before the Fed's announcement, rose $5 to $48.90.
Clearly, AOL-Time Warner believes its advertising business is in a different league from competitors. "Our company just rides above the normal dynamics here," CEO Jerry Levin told analysts.
More specifically, Chief Financial Officer Mike Kelly, asked about the company's confidence in its second-half ad performance, noted the strong advertising performance of AOL-Time Warner's
and cable operations in the first quarter. Kelly said he believes those strong numbers will continue to roll in, and he notes that the company is getting the ball rolling on "cross-platform" opportunities -- deals in which an advertiser buys into a package of multiple AOL-Time Warner properties, such as its cable networks, its online services and its print magazines.
Later, during the question-and-answer session with analysts, AOL-Time Warner co-Chief Operating Officer Bob Pittman suggested that the company's multiple properties put it above marketers' media budgets and in their high-level strategic plans.