The old adage goes, "He who pays the piper calls the tune", and at no time in history has that statement been as true as it is now. We are in the age where information is power. So, whoever controls what we see, hear and absorb can and will see that power translated into advertising dollars. Here are six titans of the media industry, in no particular order. (For more, check out Financial Media 4-1-1 For Investors.)
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Viacom Incorporated (NYSE:VIA)
If you like to be entertained by the story of a subsidiary buying up its parent and spinning it off, the tale of Viacom should touch all the bases. In business since the early 1970s - as a then arm of the mighty CBS - Viacom has grown into one of the world's media behemoths, with holdings in cable TV (Comedy Central, VH1, MTV, Nickelodeon and BET) and movies (Paramount Pictures).
In 2000, Viacom bought its erstwhile parent, CBS, splitting its holdings five years later into New Viacom and CBS Corporation, the latter of which now owns the TV and radio properties of the old Viacom. Viacom had second-quarter revenues of $3.3 billion, same as the second-quarter last year. Its operating income grew 28% over the prior-year, however, to $794 million, with $418 million in adjusted net earnings, up 40% over Q2 2009, and earnings per share (EPS) of 68 cents, up 39% year over year.
CBS Corporation (NYSE:CBS)
The home of survivors, manly men and Top 10 lists, CBS operates TV stations in virtually every major market in America, including some on its CW Network, which it shares with Time Warner Inc.
CBS Corporation in its current form has been in existence since 2005, when it was split off from its former parent Viacom. CBS also owns the Showtime pay TV network, publisher Simon & Schuster and CBS radio. For the quarter ending this past June, CBS revenues were $3.3 billion, 11% more than prior-year, while EPS came in at 25 cents, up from 19 cents last year.
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News Corporation (NYSE:NWSA)
"D'oh!" the brainchild of Australian émigré Rupert Murdoch is the network of The Simpsons, the medical drama House, and rock star vehicle American Idol. Headquartered in New York, after Murdoch moved it from Australia, the company generates the majority of its revenues and profits here in the U.S.
NewsCorp has its fingers in a lot of pies, most notably films (20th Century Fox), TV (the Fox Network) and publishing, including a host of newspapers throughout the world (New York Post and The Times of London, among others). In 2005, NWS bought Intermix Media, Inc., owner of a slew of social networking portals, including MySpace.com, for $580 million. In December 2007, the company acquired the Dow Jones & Company, publisher of The Wall Street Journal and other business news and information.
Currently a subsidiary of General Electric Company (NYSE:GE), Comcast (Nasdaq:CMCSA) has reached an agreement with GE to purchase 51% of NBC Universal for a reported $6.5 billion. NBC Universal was formed in May, 2004, when NBC and French conglomerate Vivendi Universal Entertainment came together. Vivendi currently controls 20% of NBC Universal; the 80% majority held by GE (until the Comcast deal is finalized).
NBC and Microsoft (NYSE:MSFT) created MSNBC, an all-news cable television channel, and its companion online news service, MSNBC.com. NBC Universal acquired Telemundo in 2002, as well as a number of TV stations throughout the Spanish-speaking world. In June, 2008, NBC Universal and two partner firms bought The Weather Channel from Landmark Communications, for a reported $3.5 billion. This summer, GE reported quarterly earnings of $3.1 billion, up 15% from $2.7 billion in the Q2 2009. EPS were 31 cents, up 19% from last year.
Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX)
Time Warner was formed in 1990 when Time Inc. and Warner Communications merged. In 1996, it tacked on Ted Turner's Turner Broadcasting System, including Ted's baby, CNN. In 2000, Time Warner was bought by AOL, but soon the new company found itself out of luck, as it lost almost $100 billion in 2002, it's largest loss ever, up until then. In 2003, AOL was dropped from the company name, and in December, 2009, it spun off into a separate company.
Q2 revenues for Time Warner grew 8% from the same period in 2009 to $6.24 billion, with operating income up 18% to $1.18 billion. Income per common share was 50 cents in the quarter ending in June, compared to 38 cents in last year's second quarter.
Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS)
"Don't mess with the mouse" is a time-honored axiom in show business. With all the bucks Disney has to throw around, and its overall media presence, it's no wonder.
The Disney organization is divided into four business segments: media networks (ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN and Buena Vista Television to name a few), parks and resorts (Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Euro Disney, not to mention Disney cruises), studio entertainment (animated and live action feature films along with its recording label) and consumer products (licensing on a variety of products based on Disney-centered characters).
For fiscal Q3, 2010, Disney's EPS jumped 31% to 67 cents from 51 cents prior-year. Revenues increased 16% to $10 billion, with net income leaping 40% to $1.331 billion.
The Bottom Line
It seems like a maximum of media power is in a minimum of hands. Critics charge that such power is dangerous; defenders point to the efficiencies that such size and scale create, along with the profits these media behemoths produce. If you're impressed with the product that each puts out, however, you may wish to show it by investing in one or more of them, and enjoying the returns! (For more, check out Why Networks Love Reality TV.)
For the latest financial news, check out Water Cooler Finance: The End Of The Recession.