Shares of Paramount International (NASDAQ:PARA) have had a tough 12 months, shedding round 1 / 4 of their worth regardless of a really welcome rally post-Q3 outcomes.
In fact, Paramount is not alone in its struggles. All of the legacy media giants are in a state of flux as of late, as not solely do pay-TV subscriptions proceed to say no, however the charge of attrition is not letting up. If something it’s really accelerating. With the cable bundle nonetheless the overwhelming supply of Paramount’s earnings, and with direct-to-consumer nonetheless very a lot an unproven enterprise mannequin not simply right here however industry-wide, it’s little marvel the inventory is down so closely.
Whereas you may make a case that Paramount shares look bombed out, that’s one thing you possibly can say about its bigger friends, too, and absent a extra compelling worth case I do not see a robust sufficient cause to favor it proper now.
An Inflection Level?
Paramount studies through three segments: TV Media, Direct-to-Client (“DTC”) and Filmed Leisure. The corporate generated circa $1.9 billion in pre-D&A adjusted working revenue (“OIBDA”) over the primary three quarters, weighed down by ongoing losses in DTC (~$1.2 billion over 9M’23).
TV Media is the primary revenue supply, raking in $3.7 billion in 9M’23 adjusted OIBDA. This section homes linear TV belongings just like the CBS broadcast community; a set of round 30 native TV stations in sure engaging markets; and pay-TV networks like Paramount Community, MTV and Nickelodeon.
Nationwide, pay-TV subscribers have clearly been falling, and they’re down round 35% since 2010. This chart from my latest piece on peer Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) exhibits how the speed of decline has been choosing up:
Though Netflix (NFLX) helped modified the sport with their subscription video-on-demand (“SVOD”) service, you possibly can see from the above that there’s a bit extra to it than that. The speed of decline actually picked up when the likes of Paramount, WBD, Disney (DIS) et al began launching their very own competing companies to chase Netflix.
Not solely that, however these usually are not simply platforms for second runs and lesser high quality content material: contemporary premium content material is happening them. If corporations more and more put their finest content material on streaming platforms, why would shoppers pay for a cable bundle until they wanted it to look at stay content material like sports activities and information? Stated in another way, the standard of pay-TV has fallen off a cliff although costs preserve going up. These corporations broke the bundle.
Previous to the present stage of the SVOD revolution, subscriber declines had been within the low single-digit each year vary as per the above chart. That is necessary as a result of affiliate charges, retransmission charges and reverse compensation charges are round 40% of TV Media’s prime line. These charges are what the pay-TV suppliers pay Paramount to indicate its networks, plus the charges paid by CBS affiliate stations (who themselves gather retransmission charges from pay-TV operators). Not simply that, however this income could be very excessive margin.
1-2% annual declines are manageable as a result of it may be offset with related, if not greater, hikes in per-subscriber costs. Certain, shoppers would grumble a bit, however keep in mind the bundle wasn’t damaged till considerably lately: these people had been nonetheless getting nice content material on TV.
Now, it appears to be like like we could have reached an inflection level. Declines are rising past the 5-6% each year space and into excessive single-digit territory. This cannot be offset absolutely by value hikes.
For TV Media, which means critical stress on not simply promoting gross sales, however distribution payment income too. TV Media affiliate and subscription income fell 1% year-on-year over the primary three quarters. Advert gross sales have additionally been tanking. The pattern doesn’t look nice, though 2024 is a significant election 12 months and that will probably be a pleasant tonic for advert income:
Moreover, as a result of pay-TV value will increase solely make sense for sports activities and information followers, the outdated bundle turns into much more unattractive for everybody else. There’s thus good cause to count on this pattern to hold on, at the very least till the one people left are sports activities/information viewers.
Paramount+ Elevating Questions
Paramount’s DTC section has been reporting vital losses, albeit these losses are narrowing as scale will increase and price leverage kicks in. Paramount+ had 63.4 million subscribers as of Q3. That was up over 17 million year-on-year and, encouragingly, 2.1 million sequentially. It nonetheless trails Disney, WBD and Netflix by a big margin.
Scale is clearly essential. Underneath the outdated cable bundle, networks collected their distribution charges from 100 million-plus households. Churn was not a significant difficulty as a result of people could not decide networks à la carte. What’s extra, if Paramount wasn’t releasing successful present, another person within the bundle most likely was – perhaps AMC was releasing Mad Males or Strolling Lifeless, or HBO was releasing Boardwalk Empire or Sport of Thrones. You bought filler content material like Gold Rush through Discovery to tide you over. Right now, these people can unsubscribe from a platform in a click on or two. It takes them lower than 10 seconds.
There are every kind of different downsides. For instance, beneath the cable bundle, Paramount did not really want to cope with the patron an excessive amount of, serving to revenue margins. Now it has to get on the market and market its service. That prices cash. All spherical, it is only a much less worthwhile enterprise mannequin, made worse by the truth that all of the streamers are working their very own discrete platforms.
The above is why administration sounded constructive in regards to the carriage deal between Disney and Constitution, which added the essential ad-supported tier of Disney+ to the bundle. As I mentioned within the piece on WBD, that is additionally one cause why European pay-TV subs are nonetheless comparatively wholesome. As per administration:
So first, in lots of respects, it is a home arduous bundle thought. And we have seen clear advantages with worldwide arduous bundles, specifically elevated subs, no acquisition price and decrease churn. That’s offset by a decrease potential D2C unit income, on condition that in some form or type, you may be coping with a wholesale construction. However nonetheless, once you web all of it, we see the LTV as compelling.
Bob Bakish, Paramount International President & CEO, Q3’23 Earnings Name
The unforgiving enterprise mannequin of standalone streaming can also be why Netflix is the one one to make cash up to now. It has been reporting GAAP earnings for some time, although till fairly lately it was not really producing free money movement.
Paramount+ nonetheless trails most of its friends by way of scale. I’d add a few factors to this. Firstly, be aware that Paramount+ affords stay sports activities on its streaming platform. I do not see the logic of taking these eyeballs away from linear TV in any respect. Keep in mind, even the printed networks, which present a whole lot of NFL and are free over-the-air, generate a whole lot of their payment income from pay-TV. Sports activities are about the one factor propping the entire thing up. Why put this on a streaming platform? Whereas WBD has taken NBA onto its Max providing too, it’s at the very least making it a premium add-on and charging a $9.99 month-to-month payment, albeit with a beneficiant trial interval. If you happen to beloved NBA and wished to go away the bundle, you’ll find yourself having to pay $20 a month only for the video games on TNT. That most likely would not make a lot sense. Disney has sensibly left ESPN the place it’s till it may work out a worthwhile streaming mannequin, if it exists. Observe that DTC ESPN+ just isn’t a direct stream of ESPN, primarily providing programming that it may’t match on the linear community.
The second level is that at the very least two of Paramount’s opponents usually are not completely reliant on making DTC work. Disney has a $9 billion EBIT enterprise within the type of its parks section. Possibly it may afford to be extra versatile and use DTC as a requirement creation device for its parks and experiences choices. NBCU, although in a bind like Paramount and WBD, is owned by Comcast (CMCSA), which runs a cable enterprise. Promoting web just isn’t affected by any of this, and really advantages as people want sooner web connections. Not like with video, web service suppliers additionally do not must pay charges to the networks, in order that enterprise will probably be greater margin by default. This is perhaps why analysts are elevating questions as as to if Paramount+ ought to be jettisoned solely, as Paramount appears to be like particularly weak versus friends.
A Robust Worth Name
Paramount International shares commerce for $14.40 apiece as I kind. Avenue analysts are all over on this one, slapping value targets on the inventory that land anyplace between $9 and $30. On the common, Paramount has little or no upside in response to the analysts that cowl it. As per In search of Alpha:
Examine that to friends Disney (13% upside), (WBD) (52%) and (CMCSA) (18%). Paramount appears to be like somewhat mild, and keep in mind, it arguably has essentially the most danger in its enterprise, actually versus Disney and Comcast.
These value targets will most likely be based mostly on a a number of of EV/EBITDA utilized on ahead earnings projections. That a number of represents the long run cashflows of those companies discounted again to each time the goal value date is. Given the massive quantity of uncertainty now in these companies, you might moderately query the utility of such fashions. That is honest. Wells Fargo’s Steven Cahall (see the hyperlink within the final part) thinks Paramount might command $30 billion for its studios alone – sufficient to cowl its present enterprise worth with a piece of spare change. M&A, breakup or technique change: these are maybe the strongest bull instances right here proper now. Absent that, Paramount simply would not supply sufficient of a worth case in comparison with friends, although I proceed to carry.