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OTT grabs attention as earnings roil media stocks

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OTT grabs attention as earnings roil media stocks

Earnings drove another rollicking trading week across the media and communications sectors, with some of the biggest news coming from legacy heavyweight Walt Disney Co.

Disney on Aug. 8 issued middling fiscal third-quarter earnings results, with some downside once again driven by ESPN (US). GAAP EPS came to $1.51 versus consensus expectations for $1.55, or down 5% year over year. Disney said weakness was driven by its cable networks and ESPN in particular.

Somewhat overshadowing Disney's earnings was an announcement that the company will create two over-the-top streaming platforms, one for sports and one for entertainment. Analysts offered a range of opinions on the move, but most noted that the strategy will likely weigh on financials in the foreseeable future as the company develops the platforms, loses fee revenue from existing OTT partnerships and creates new original content for digital distribution. That said, several said that it was the right long-term move for Disney as the company combats declining revenues from traditional sources.

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In conjunction with the new direct-to-consumer strategy, Disney will unwind some of its partnership arrangements with Netflix Inc., which enjoys an exclusive post-theatrical window for Disney movies, airs some ABC (US) content and licenses Marvel original series. The post-theatrical distribution deal will dissolve, but beyond that details on Disney's and Netflix's evolving relationship were sparse. Some analysts argued that Netflix is losing out by not only giving up high-value content but also gaining a new competitor in the internet TV market. On the other hand, Disney's move to digital streaming also validates Netflix's strategy that all TV will soon be internet TV.

In the aftermath of the announcements, investors sold off Disney shares in step with Netflix shares. The Mouse House was down 5.3% for the five trading days ended Aug. 11, and Netflix was off by 4.9%.

Some analysts argued that Disney's strategy represented more headwinds to the traditional TV business, and it would force more networks and distributors to go over-the-top. In turn, shares of many traditional TV networks traded off after Disney's announcement. However, one that managed to exit the week well in the black was CBS Corp. The network operator Aug. 7 reported EPS was weighed down heavily by one-time charges, but it met expectations on an adjusted basis, according to S&P Capital IQ.

On top of the in-line earnings, CBS met Disney's OTT announcement with one of its own. President and CEO Les Moonves said not only are streaming services CBS All Access and Showtime pacing to exceed five-year expectations, but the company will expand All Access into international markets in 2018 and introduce its own streaming sports service by the end of 2017.

CBS shares added 4.9% for the trading week ended Aug. 11.

Snapchat operator Snap Inc. also gave a bullish update on its streaming video platform during its Aug. 10 second-quarter earnings commentary, but investors seemed to care more about user and monetization trends. The company's profit losses cut deeper than expected, with the loss per share at 36 cents against a consensus estimate of 30 cents. User growth was also slower than hoped, expanding 21% year over year.

Snapchat shares tumbled 12.5% for the five days.

Elsewhere among internet names, Priceline Group Inc. was pummeled by investors despite a significant second-quarter EPS beat, $14.39 compared to a consensus estimate of $13.32, according to S&P Capital IQ. The company's guidance suggested third-quarter gross bookings growth would slow to a range of 11% to 16% from 16% in the second quarter. For room nights, it forecast third-quarter growth in a range of 11% to 16% compared to 21% growth in the second quarter, according to Ascendiant Capital Markets analyst Edward Woo.

"We believe that guidance is conservative given its recent positive momentum ... and the overall positive travel industry," Woo said in an Aug. 9 note. "However, we acknowledge that growth rates are likely going to trend lower given Priceline's large market size and position."

Priceline shares dropped 8.8% during the trading week.

Lastly, theater stocks were off as the U.S. box office underperformed in the summer season. According to Kagan research, ticket sales are down 10.6% for the summer, leaving it on pace to be the first sub-$4 billion summer since 2006. Regal Entertainment Group felt the heat, shedding 7.9% for the five days ended Aug. 11.

Amid the selloff, theatrical advertising company National CineMedia Inc. on Aug. 7 caught insult on injury after it reported EPS of 2 cents, falling well short of the S&P Capital IQ consensus estimate of 6 cents. Shares of the company collapsed 16.7% over the week ended Aug. 11.