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Viacom Posts Much-Improved Fiscal Fourth-Quarter Profit

Philippe Dauman
Dorothy Hong

UPDATED: The entertainment giant increased its stock buyback program and recorded double-digit revenue growth with its film unit being boosted by "Transformers 3," but the company also said current ad sales have softened a bit.

NEW YORK - Viacom Inc. on Thursday reported higher fiscal fourth-quarter earnings as TV advertising revenue continued to rise and the company posted much-improved film unit financials thanks to Transformers 3 and Captain America.

The entertainment giant, led by CEO Philippe Dauman, recorded a quarterly profit from continuing operations of $583 million, compared to $490 million in the year-ago period. Net profit from continuing operations attributable to Viacom rose 18 percent to $576 million. The latest period included a $130 million restructuring charge for reorganizations that executives said should yield $140 million in annual cost savings. The year-ago figure was dragged down by charges related to the sale of video game firm Harmonix.

Revenue increased 22 percent to $4.05 billion. The figures exceeded Wall Street expectations.

Viacom also boosted its stock buyback plan from $4 billion to $10 billion. Viacom's stock finished the day 8.2 percent higher at $43.61.

Looking at the current quarter, scatter ad sales momentum has seen a "slight" softening, including due to an unusual Nickelodeon ratings decline that is being investigated, but ad pricing has remained strong, Dauman said.

Film unit revenue at Viacom rose 46 percent and operating profit rose 256 percent to $185 million, with the company citing "strong theatrical and home entertainment performance."

In the latest quarter, “Paramount’s films grossed over $500 million at the domestic box office, up 129 percent,” Evercore Partners analyst Alan Gould had said ahead of the earnings report. “Most of the marketing dollars for Transformers 3 were expensed in the June quarter making the film very profitable in the September period." He had also predicted "very strong" pay TV results for the Paramount studio.

In Viacom's TV networks unit, revenue climbed eight percent, and operating profit rose 10 percent to $958 million as advertising revenue rose 7 percent on a worldwide and domestic basis. The ad growth fell below the 10 percent full fiscal-year improvement in the U.S. and globally. Management said the latest period included some ratings weakness at some networks, particularly from repeats of acquired programming that the company is addressing with a continuing focus on developing its own programming.

For the full fiscal year ended Sept. 30, Viacom's revenue rose 12 percent to $14.91 billion. Full-year adjusted profit from continuing operations increased 22 percent to $2.25 billion.

"Viacom's powerful brands are enhanced by operational and financial discipline, which continues to drive our results and build value for shareholders," said Viacom executive chairman Sumner Redstone. On a conference call, he added that Viacom was on a roll and once again lauded Dauman as "one of the wisest" CEOs in the industry.

"Creatively we are at the top of our game, powered by unique audience insights and connections, coupled with consistent investment in innovative programming at our marquee media networks, including MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, and BET," said Dauman. "We enter a new fiscal year with a proven track record of managing our operations effectively in every economic environment.  Our financial position is as strong as it has ever been, which allows us to continue to invest in the growth of our businesses, including new branded television networks in the U.S. and internationally, and Paramount's recently launched animation label."

Amid a still-unclear economic outlook, he told Wall Street on a conference call that his team manages the company to be well-positioned in any economic environment.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai