Viacom CEO Talks Stephen Colbert's Comedy Central Departure, Paramount Outlook

4:04 AM PST 05/01/2014 by Georg Szalai
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman

UPDATED: Philippe Dauman calls "Noah" a bona fide global hit, predicts a good upfront and touts ratings momentum at the company's networks after it reported higher quarterly earnings.

Viacom on Thursday reported improved fiscal second-quarter earnings, but film revenue and profitability declined.

The entertainment conglomerate, led by CEO Philippe Dauman and controlled by chairman Sumner Redstone, also held a bullish earnings conference call for Wall Street analysts. "We are in position for an era of growth," Dauman said on the call.

Viacom reported earnings from continuing operations of $502 million, compared with $481 million in the year-ago period, up 4 percent.

Adjusted for various factors, earnings rose minimally to $482 million. Adjusted earnings per share from continuing operations rose 13 percent from 96 cents to $1.13. Revenue climbed 1 percent to $3.17 billion.

Media networks financials improved, but film revenue and operating income fell. Networks revenue rose 6 percent, with operating income up 9 percent, driven by higher affiliate fees and an advertising revenue gain of 2 percent in the U.S. and 3 percent worldwide.

Film unit revenue fell 12 percent "primarily due to lower carryover revenue from prior period releases." Film operating profit fell 83 percent, with Viacom citing "the number and mix of current fiscal year releases."

Paramount Pictures' film releases in the latest period ended March 31 included Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Noah. The Wolf of Wall Street, released at the end of 2013, also continued to contribute to the latest quarter's box-office revenue.

Dauman called Noah "a bona fide global hit," with big international audiences turning out to see the film. And he touted Paramount's "exciting release slate" for the summer, including Hercules and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Discussing the performance of Viacom's various networks, Dauman said Comedy Central has continued to do well and is looking forward to sending off Stephen Colbert, who will take over as the late-night host on CBS for David Letterman next year, "in style." In answer to questions about Comedy Central's future lineup, Dauman said his team was "looking forward to reinventing late-night television again."

The Viacom CEO also lauded 15 consecutive months of ratings improvements at Nickelodeon. In addition to newer hits, SpongeBob SquarePants is "as strong as ever approaching its 15th anniversary," he said.

Meanwhile, VH1 is continuing to rebuild its programming slate with a focus on celebrity-heavy fare, Dauman said. And he proclaimed that "a bold period of reinvention is at hand at MTV," citing three new scripted shows.

Viacom management said that U.S. advertising growth will see mid-single-digit growth in the current quarter. And Dauman predicted a strong upfront advertising market.

In brief opening remarks, Redstone lauded "another successful quarter for Viacom" before introducing Dauman in typically bullish terms as "my good friend, the wisest man I have ever known."

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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