Paramount films fuel Viacom

Revenues up 21% to $3.9 billion last quarter

Paramount’s triple play — Indy, “Iron Man” and “Kung Fu Panda” — punched up revenue at parent Viacom by 21% to $3.9 billion last quarter, providing welcome relief as slower advertising growth continues to rattle cable networks and punish media stocks.

“The media industry is not immune (to a slowing economy). I understand the frustration of shareholders who have seen share prices fall victim to the economy,” chairman Sumner Redstone said in an I-share-your-pain pep talk during a conference call. “There is opportunity even in difficult times for companies that have strong and enduring assets.”

Viacom’s net income fell 6% to $407 million for the three months ended in June.

Domestic ad revenue was up an anemic 1%. Worldwide ad revenue nosed up 2% to $1.17 billion.

Automotive, retail and some consumer goods led the retreat, and Viacom execs said they’re seeing continued softness in the current quarter.

Chief executive Philippe Dauman noted that more active advertisers such as pharmaceutical and financial-services companies tend to flock to older-skewing networks, which has penalized some Viacom channels. He also said MTV and BET saw ratings slip. He termed the former’s difficulties a seasonal slump likely to lift with the season premiere of “The Hills.” BET has been squeezed by an ongoing strategic shift to more original programming.

Viacom’s media networks saw revenue grow 11% to $2.1 billion. Income was up 4% to $765 million.

Viacom cited popular music videogame “Rock Band,” which has been a phenomenon for the company and continues to pump up what Viacom calls ancillary business. Viacom is rolling it out internationally and will release “Rock Band 2” in September.

Viacom said affiliate fees for the networks rose 12% to $656 million, and Dauman expects a bump up in revenue as deals expire for Nickelodeon and, particularly, for Comedy Central. At Par, the clear star of the quarter, filmed entertainment revenue jumped 35% to nearly $1.8 billion. Operating income surged to $86 million from $22 million — up 291%. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” also sparked sales of the reissue of the first three Indiana Jones pics, helping boost Paramount’s homevid revenue by 12%.

Dauman was upbeat on Par, which has burst out of the gate after a few spare years following major management shakeups. He touted DreamWorks’ upcoming “Tropic Thunder,” Paramount’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.”

The studio is facing the exit of DreamWorks co-founder Steven Spielberg. Spielberg and DreamWorks chief exec Stacey Snider are in discussions to launch a new company with funding from Indian conglom Reliance ADA Group.

Viacom, which announced its earnings after the market closed, has seen its stock plunge to under $30 from a 52-week high of about $45. The stock closed Tuesday at $29.83.

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