Wednesday 7 December 2016

Time Warner may not be done shaping media yet

John Lynch

Published 25/07/2016 | 02:30

'Click to enlarge'
'Click to enlarge'

There was a time when the corporation Time Warner conjured up the image of great news, sports magazines and fantastic movies, offering glamour to many, many humdrum lives in this part of the world - mine included.

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But a quarter-century of complicated financial engineering and complex restructuring (along with a few multi-million dollar mistakes) has changed the face of Time Warner, which is now fairly described as a film and TV powerhouse.

It has also become such a mighty outfit that its moulding and reshaping may not be ended.

The 'Time' half of the name comes from Time magazine, the news weekly that for eight decades gave the world the lowdown on American politics, arts and culture. The Warner part came from the Hollywood studios of Warner Bros, who started a world revolution with the first talkie, 'The Jazz Singer'.

Twenty-six years ago the two merged. It was the start of a bewildering series of link-ups fuelled or forced by the changing face of global media. The combined group bought Turner Broadcasting Systems - owner of CNN, a cable business. A decade after the merger the company joined with dotcom icon AOL (America On Line) but after an unhappy relationship, AOL was spun off.

The previous year the group had hived off its cable business in spite of being the number two cable operator in the US. Twenty-four years after the merger the original magazine division was divested and floated on the NYSE. As a result, it allowed the company to concentrate exclusively on TV and films.

The group classifies its operations into three reportable segments; Home Box Office, Turner Broadcasting and Warner Communications. Home Box Office has two TV networks, HBO and Cinemax, and claims it is the most watched pay service in the US.

Its many networks are available directly in over 70 countries and its content is sold into 150 countries.

The division's revenue last year was $5.6bn (20pc of the group's revenue), mostly from subscriptions, with operating income of $1.9bn.

Turner Broadcasting is the company that in 1980 launched CNN, the first 24-hour news network which redefined the way the world receives breaking news. Its TV networks also offer film, sports and cartoons. Based in Atlanta, it is one of the great American media stories.

Despite heavy initial losses and some ridicule directed at its output, its satellite news channel gradually gained traction and today is the main 24-hour news network in the world.

Last year it recorded $10.6bn of revenues and had operating income of $4bn.

Warner Communications also went with the flow and by now is reckoned to be the global leader in entertainment, with the studio at the focus in every activity.

Warner is the company's largest division, with over 40pc of group revenue at $13bn, but is not the most profitable, with operating income of $1.4bn.

It produces up to 20 feature films each year, like 'Batman' and 'Superman', distributing them under the Warner Bros or New Line. In addition, over the years it has produced over 60 original TV series.

Having got rid of its publishing interests the group is now a film and TV colossus and could be attractive to a company seeking content, such as Apple. However, it could prove expensive - as Time Warner is valued at $61bn. Revenue last year was $28bn, up 4pc, with subscriptions contributing $10bn.

The growth in operating profits was impressive at 19pc to $7bn and earnings per share at $4.75, showing a significant increase of 14pc. Last year the company invested almost $12bn on content and spent $5bn on share buybacks.

These shares trade at $78, down from its 10-year high of $91 late last year. It has a modest enough price-to-earnings multiple of 15.

If an investor was looking for an American share which served markets across the globe, Time Warner stock is probably worth considering - but watch the euro/dollar exchange rate.

Nothing in this section should be taken as a recommendation, either explicit or implicit, to buy any of the shares mentioned.

Irish Independent

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