Media Stocks Continue Slide, as Netflix Shares Shoot to Record High

Investor sell-off spurred by concerns pay-TV biz is in decline

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Stocks of major media companies continued their decline Thursday morning — amid investor fears that the pay-TV business is on the cusp of a big downward spiral — while shares of streaming leader Netflix popped to all-time highs in early trading.

Hardest hit among media congloms were Viacom and 21st Century Fox, both down 10% in early trading. Also falling lower were Disney (down more than 4%) as well as CBS, Time Warner, Discovery Communications, Scripps Networks Interactive and AMC Networks. The declines, coming after a big drop Wednesday, were fueled by Viacom’s disappointing quarterly results reported before the market opened.

By contrast, Netflix was up nearly 4%, trading as high as $128.85 per share, as Wall Street continues to rally on the company’s prospects for international growth.

The stock market woes for the media conglomerates come after a major selloff Wednesday, which erased some $37 billion of market value for eight media companies, according to Sanford Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger.

The drop in media stocks Wednesday were triggered by Disney’s cut forecasts for pay-TV affiliate fee increases from “high singles” to “mid-single digit” percentages in reporting earnings, and CEO Bob Iger’s acknowledgment that ESPN has seen “some subscriber losses.” That triggered “a sky-is-falling mentality among media investors with respect to expectations on cord-cutting,” Juenger wrote in a research note.

The severe reaction in the market was overblown, in Juenger’s opinion, who said he’s optimistic that the pay-TV bundle will continue to remain solid even as subscribers levels continue to slowly erode. “We believe yesterday’s dramatic selloff was much more severe than warranted by any new evidence of risk,” he wrote.

There are signs the U.S. pay-TV sector is contracting at a faster rate. The industry lost a net 357,000 subscribers in the second quarter of 2015 (excluding Cablevision and DirecTV), versus a decline of 151,000 subs in the year-earlier period, according to estimates by research firm MoffettNathanson.

“Questions around the death of pay TV are now front and center,” analyst Michael Nathanson wrote in a note, “even if the size and pace of declines are likely being overstated by press and Street commentary.”