Starting with Barry Diller's wake-up call on Monday morning, this promises to be a busy week for media investors.
Over the course of the next four days, media conglomerates with a collective market capitalization surpassing $250 billion will be reporting on the last three months of 2003, as well as providing insight into the outlook for 2004.
The reporting companies -- which include
and the Diller-led
-- likely will cast light on major media hot-button issues, such as the advertising recovery, cable-satellite competition, programming costs and the progress of advanced broadband services.
Given the events of the past few weeks -- for example, Disney's well-publicized breakup with production partner
and News Corp.'s gain of a controlling stake in direct broadcast satellite operator
-- the executive commentary on these companies' conference calls with analysts promises to be as interesting as the numbers they reveal.
Not only that, but the sheer size of the reporting companies indicates that even the slightest changes in their strategies could have major competitive ripples.
Certainly, one of the most relevant topics will be the state of the multichannel television market. This will be the first quarter in which the reporting from DirecTV parent Hughes will be led by CEO Chase Carey, the News Corp. executive installed upon News Corp.'s acquisition of a major Hughes stake (via News Corp.'s U.S. entertainment subsidiary,
Fox Entertainment Group
Hughes, the nation's largest DBS operator,
made waves last week in a spat with DirecTV distributor
. Investors have been waiting to find out how a Rupert Murdoch-influenced Hughes might step up the already considerable competition between satellite and cable; perhaps Carey will give a preview.
Over on cable's side, Comcast -- the nation's largest operator of cable TV systems -- and
, one of the top five operators, likely will talk about cable's competitive positioning relative not only to satellite, but also to telcos. Cox has long said that a "triple-play" bundle of video, data and telephony services has created a loyal base of customers. Comcast has indicated it will wait at least until 2005 to launch Internet-based telephony on a broad scale.
January show of support for VoIP, as the service is known, maybe Comcast will have something to say about its ongoing experimentation with voice services.
Also relevant to cable's outlook is discussion of HDTV, personal video recorders and video-on-demand -- all advanced video services that cable operators see as necessary tools for satellite competition. The companies may, as they have in the past, continue to vouch for the health of the high-speed data business, especially given last week's disclosure that
ending promotional pricing on its least-expensive DSL service.
Cox may once again take the opportunity to blast Disney-unit ESPN over rising prices in sports programming.
Speaking of advertising-supported media, investors once again will want to know what trends are looking like in broadcast television. And between CBS parent Viacom, ABC parent Disney and Fox parent News Corp., they'll likely get an idea. Among the individual issues facing those companies, Disney likely will address both
life after Pixar and a possible resurgence in its theme park business.
Meanwhile, the ever-outspoken Viacom President Mel Karmazin may shed some light on the Janet Jackson Super Bowl flap and the ever-uncertain fate of Viacom subsidiary
(which, like Viacom, reports Tuesday morning).
Finally, Diller no doubt will be asked about the fate of InterActiveCorp's stake in Vivendi Universal Entertainment, the
offshoot slated to merge with
Diller, no doubt, will say he's open to selling, if he can get a satisfactory price. And he'll continue in his effort to persuade investors that InterActiveCorp is more than the sum of its various e-commerce parts, and that the company will continue to take advantage of the inexorable growth of online transactions in travel, finance, ticketing, dating and other businesses.