Over the last year, the stock prices of the old mainline media companies have moved in virtual lockstep with one another. None of them has done a very good job convincing Wall Street that it deserves a premium.
One Industry, One Price.
There are only a few companies that are in the studio, TV network, cable programming and online business - the media conglomerates. Most have been put together over the last 25 years, lead by powerful CEOs like Sumner Redstone, Rupert Murdoch and Michael Eisner. But, despite trying to tell investors about how their companies are different, the shares prices of the five firms show that they are viewed as almost identical.
CBS (NYSE: CBS) is up a little under 30% in the last year. The others are up about 20%. One good or bad quarter could change that order, but probably not by much.
Not Really The Same
It does not even take a close look at the five media operators to see very substantial differences. Disney (NYSE: DIS) has a large theme park business. News Corp (NYSE: NWS) has one of the largest internet properties, MySpace. Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) is majority owner of a cable company, Time Warner Cable. Viacom (NYSE: VIA) and CBS are run by the same man, Sumner Redstone, but the crown jewel of CBS is its network. The lead horse at Viacom is MTV.
Perhaps the most important reason that the stocks are locked into similar trading ranges is that none of them are considered "new media" companies. This is obviously a misconception. Each company has moved its businesses onto the internet. For example, Time Warner has a very large online operation with AOL, and News Corp has MySpace. But, the investor perception is that these companies are still figuring out how they will turn their internet businesses into big money.
Time Warner has recently shifted AOL from being a business where revenue is driven by its consumer subscribers to one where most of the revenue comes from advertising. The jury is still out on how successful that will be. News Corp's MySpace has an extremely large user base, but making a lot of money on its "social networking" model has been elusive.
Who Cares About The Web?
The importance of doing well on the internet may be overstated. While Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) shares are up only slightly more than CBS's over the last twelve months, shares of Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) have underperformed old-line media stocks by a substantial margin.
Investors may not differentiate much among the old media company shares, but the companies have done better off in the market than many of the new media firms.
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