Time Warner and Disney were the showbiz’s biggest gainers in the stock market in 2014. Discovery Communications and Viacom were the biggest losers in what was generally a solid year for the major U.S. indexes.
Volatility in demand for traditional TV advertising took a toll on some of showbiz’s largest congloms, as the year-end numbers reveal. The entertainment heavyweights that performed best in 2014 tended to be those least reliant on advertising revenue, according to MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson.
Time Warner, of course, got a huge boost in July from 21st Century Fox’s takeover bid. Time Warner stock shot up from $71 to $83 on July 16 as Jeff Bewkes’ wrangling with Rupert Murdoch became public. Time Warner shares gave up most of those gains in the following weeks after Fox retreated.
But the stock climbed again after the conglom’s big announcement on Oct. 15 that it will market HBO as a standalone broadband offering in 2015. For the year, Time Warner gained 28%, closing Wednesday at $85.42, pretty close to its 52-week high ($88.13) and miles away from its low ($58.22).
21st Century Fox, on the other hand, had a choppier ride in its first full year as a standalone entity comprising Murdoch’s media and entertainment assets, following its June 2013 split from the publishing side of News Corp. The bid for Time Warner cost Fox some bucks on the Street in mid-July, although the decline was not as dramatic as the growth in Time Warner shares.
But Fox was on the rebound by early August and has been on a good run since mid-October, and it may have Time Warner to thank for the buoyancy. Fox and other stocks got a bounce from the HBO announcement, likely because of the sentiment on the Street that the expansion of OTT distribution will be good for traditional content owners.
For the year, Fox gained 6.7%, closing Wednesday at $36.91 — much closer to its 52-week high ($37.83) than its low ($30.02).
Disney’s share price was pretty steady for most of the year as the company delivered generally glowing results. The stock has been on the upswing in recent weeks, likely tied to enthusiasm for the company’s big film slate in 2015, signs of improvement at ABC and the OTT bonus points.
For the year, Disney gained 23%, closing Wednesday at $94.16. That’s much closer to its 52-week high ($95.93) than its low ($69.85).
Comcast finished the year with growth even after its shares took two big plunges this year. The first came predictably in February after the cable giant unveiled its surprise $45.2 billion acquisition deal for Time Warner Cable.
The second came in mid-October on the heels of HBO’s OTT news, which was seen as evidence that the cable bundle is vulnerable to incursions from digital competitors. Despite growing concerns that the feds may block the Comcast-TW Cable marriage, shares have been on the rise since early November.
For the year, Comcast gained 11.6%, closing Wednesday at $58, not too shy of its 52-week high ($59.29) and well above its low ($47.74).
Discovery Communications, which had a stock split in August, felt the pressure of advertising softness and ratings declines at its largest U.S. networks. Shares have been mostly on the downside since early September.
For the year, Discovery’s class A shares, the more widely held, lost 24.31%, closing Wednesday at $34.45. That’s still above its 52-week low ($31.29) but far from its high ($46.12). Discovery K shares fared a bit better with a 19.5% decline.
Viacom was pretty much in the same boat as Discovery. Ratings and advertising worries at its flagship MTV Networks brand are a big concern on Wall Street even as MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central started to show signs of a turnaround. Viacom’s expansion in the U.K. with the acquisition of Channel 5 didn’t do much for shares either way after the May announcement.
The stock skidded after the conglom’s earnings report in mid-September although it has rebounded some since full-year results were reported in mid-November.
For the year, Viacom was down 14%, closing Wednesday at $75.25. That’s still well above its 52-week low ($65.86) but off its high ($89.76).
CBS had a stronger first half of the year than second, amid nervousness about upheaval in TV viewing and advertising. The Eye hit its low point of the year just days before the Oct. 16 announcement of its leap into OTT distribution with the CBS All Access SVOD service, which gave a lift to shares that mostly continued through the rest of the year.
For the year, CBS was down 13%, closing Wednesday at $55.34. That’s well above the low ($48.83) but far off the high ($68.10) hit in March.
A year of big film releases didn’t move the needle much for Lionsgate as it grappled with underwhelming B.O. for “The Expendables” sequel and lower-than-expected returns for “Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1.”
The company finished the year up 1%, closing Wednesday at $32.02, which was at least closer to its 52-week high ($35.75) than its low ($24.54).
(Pictured: Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, Disney CEO Robert Iger and Discovery CEO David Zaslav)