At the start of the year, you couldn’t swing a quarterly report without hitting a media exec gloomy about his company’s stock price.
Six months later, it’s almost hard to hit one who isn’t wearing a smile.
A nervous one, anyway.
Of the six major media and entertainment congloms — Disney, News Corp., Sony, Time Warner, CBS and Viacom — four saw their stock rise (or surge, in the case of Disney and News Corp.) in the first half of the year. A fifth, Time Warner, holds steady but continues to frustrate Wall Street.
The big disappointment? Viacom, touted as the high-flyer in the Sumner Redstone-induced split, has seen its stock price sink 10% in its first six months apart from Moonves’ CBS.
(At NBC Universal parent GE, entertainment is such a small part of its diverse portfolio that it cannot properly be considered a media conglom.)
Here’s a first-half report card of the Big Six — how they fared, why they faltered or flourished and their prospects for the rest of the year:
- Disney (up 21%). The rise here has been almost meteoric — that would be a computer-generated meteor, of course. The post-Pixar glow still hovers over the Mouse House, in part because of Steve Jobs’ increased involvement with the company. ABC’s strong record with new platforms is also lifting Disney, though company heads into a critical period — the summer-park theme season — amid fears of gas prices and ride safety.
- News Corp. (up 23%). A year ago the company shocked Wall Street when it paid more than half a billion dollars for MySpace. Six months ago, Peter Chernin and Rupert Murdoch were bemoaning how investors didn’t seem to get it. Now, they get it. Studio’s outlook is strong, Fox won the 18-49 ratings contest and had a superb upfront, and even some struggling global assets have begun to shape up. It’s hard to find an analyst who doesn’t like News Corp.
- Sony (up 8%). The sprawling conglom’s fortunes are tied as much to electronics as anything in entertainment. Still, it’s hard to be too pessimistic. Under the stewardship of Howard Stringer, the company has achieved a “Da Vinci Code”-inspired Zen. For the second half, all eyes are on the much-blogged, ballyhooed (and delayed) PlayStation 3, which could be the company’s holiday savior — or its downfall.
- CBS (up 4%). Leslie Moonves’ talk about the supremacy of content is making inroads on Wall Street, which likes that the net has a lot that can earn coin in ancillary new-media markets. Even the much-feared movie announcement didn’t send investors scurrying, though they still dislike a staticky radio situation and a Showtime that’s a perennial runner-up.
- Time Warner (down 1%). It’s a tale of three companies at Time Warner, with Wall Street loving the cable division, heavily skeptical of AOL and ambivalent on most everything else. Company seems to have settled down after the Carl Icahn fracas, not suffering any great hits or making many missteps. But the raider’s argument that it was the company, not the climate, that’s responsible for a sagging stock looks wise after the competish’s stock began leaving TW behind. Studio’s “Superman” gambit could be a swing factor.
- Viacom (down 10%). To be fair, the company began trading at a higher price than that at which most congloms were trading back in January. But Wall Street isn’t buying — literally or figuratively. “CBS underpromised and overdelivered. Viacom did the opposite,” one analyst said. And observers don’t see much hope ahead; though they’re mildly bullish about the integrated Paramount, they worry about a company so reliant on cable advertising after the weak network upfront and ask where the big revenue growth is coming from.