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Disney, Fox and Viacom: A big week for media earnings

Posted at 11:29 AM, Aug 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-07 13:29:19-04

Disney already won the battle to purchase most of 21st Century Fox. But media merger mania isn’t over just yet.

Tuesday marks Disney’s first quarterly call since shareholders approved the $71.3 billion deal for Fox last month.

Disney will get a chance to talk in further detail about how Fox fits in to its ever-growing entertainment empire. Once that deal closes, Disney will control Fox’s film studio, which includes the “X-Men” and “Avatar” franchises.

That’s a lot of box office power for a company that already owns several blockbuster series, including “Star Wars,” the Marvel superhero movies and Pixar’s library of animated features.

Related: Disney would dominate the US box office if it buys Fox

The call also gives analysts a chance to press the company on streaming. Disney’s first streaming service, ESPN+, has now been out for several months. And its Disney-branded service is expected some time next year.

Trip Miller, a Disney shareholder and managing partner at Gullane Capital Partners, said he’s hopeful for Disney’s efforts right now. The Fox purchase should also help the company bolster its lineup of adult content, too.

“I just see Disney as having kind of the three key pods: family, adult, sports,” he said. “If you are competing against Netflix, and that’s the target, Netflix doesn’t have sports, they don’t have the content — obviously Disney’s pulling away from Netflix in the coming year, which hurts on the family side.”

It might not be all good news for Disney. “Solo,” the latest installment in the “Star Wars” franchise was a disappointment when it debuted in May.

Disney could also discuss Sky, the European broadcaster that it has been interested in buying for several months. The company is a leader in pay TV in the United Kingdom and other markets, including Germany and Italy, and could help Disney expand its footprint abroad.

Disney hasn’t bid directly on that company. Its efforts so far have been unfolding by proxy through Fox, which has agreed that it would sell the company to Disney if it succeeds in its takeover bid.

The companies had until the end of Thursday to take action on Sky. Comcast has already offered £26 billion ($34 billion), the highest offer. On Tuesday afternoon, Fox formalized a previous offer it made for Sky of £24.5 billion, or about $32.5 billion. That effectively extends the deadline it has to top Comcast’s bid until September 22.

Winning would be a big deal for Comcast, which tried to buy most of Fox but lost out to Disney.

During a call with investors last month, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said his company is “focused” on Sky.

“We think it’s a great business,” he added. “We think it’s a great business, it will fit well, good use of capital. It’s also unique.”

Related: Comcast increases its offer for Sky

Fox will also discuss earnings this week, and the Sky bid could be top of mind during that call, too.

But when analysts question Fox executives Wednesday afternoon, they might also be interested in what will happen to the company once it downsizes. The “new Fox” will include Fox News, the Fox broadcast network, FS1 and FS2.

Fox has already been laying the groundwork for that new company. Executives have spent much of this year snapping up the rights to broadcast franchises like “WWE Smackdown” and Thursday night NFL games.

Related: The new Fox will be a sports and entertainment hub

Disney and Fox aren’t the only big names on this week’s earnings agenda. Viacom, the parent company of MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount, reports on Thursday.

The company has been touting its turnaround effort for months, and will likely focus on that during the call. But observers will also keep a close ear on anything CEO Bob Bakish might say about its corporate cousin, CBS.

CBS chief Les Moonves faces accusations of sexual harassment, casting his future in doubt. CBS has hired two law firms to investigate the claims.

Related: Les Moonves avoids sexual harassment allegations during CBS earnings call

Meanwhile, CBS is locked in a legal battle with Shari Redstone, the majority owner of both CBS and Viacom. CBS is trying to lessen Redstone’s control over the company after she pushed the two businesses to merge earlier this year.

Whatever happens to Moonves and CBS could have big implications for Viacom and Bakish. Redstone favors Bakish, and wanted him in a top executive position at a merged CBS-Viacom.

If Moonves is ousted, some analysts think the chance of a merger shoots back up again. And that could give Bakish an even higher profile.