Time Warner First-Quarter Earnings Exceed Wall Street Estimates

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice' opened late in Time Warner's first quarter.

The company, led by CEO Jeff Bewkes, posted higher profits for HBO, Turner and Warner Bros., which opened 'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice' in the period.

Time Warner, the entertainment conglomerate behind Warner Bros., HBO and the Turner TV networks, on Wednesday reported improved first-quarter results that exceeded Wall Street estimates as all units posted higher bottom-line results.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Benjamin Mogil lauded the results as having come in "well ahead of our and consensus expectations ... with the bulk of the outperformance coming from Warner Bros." Time Warner's stock was up 2.9 percent at $75.74 as of 10:15 a.m. ET.

Time Warner reiterated its full-year 2016 earnings outlook rather than boosting it.

The company, led by CEO Jeffrey Bewkes, reported adjusted earnings of $1.49 per share, compared with $1.19 in the year-ago period and the $1.30 Wall Street consensus estimate. Net income rose 25 percent to $1.21 billion from $970 million, while earnings from continuing operations of $1.20 billion compared to $933 million in the year-ago period. Adjusted operating profit, another profitability metric, jumped 11 percent to a quarterly record of $2 billion.

The company also posted a slightly better-than-expected 2.5 percent revenue gain to $7.31 billion due to growth at Turner and HBO, partially offset by a decline at Warner Bros. Revenue included the unfavorable impact of foreign exchange rates of approximately $115 million in the quarter.

While the growth at Turner and HBO has been expected, analysts had in many cases forecast Warner Bros. — which opened Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice only late in the quarter, meaning additional box-office revenue will be recorded in the second quarter — to post a small decline in its bottom line compared with the year-ago period that had included box-office revenue for American Sniper and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

But in an upside surprise for Wall Street, the film division's adjusted operating profit increased 29 percent to $426 million despite a 3 percent revenue drop. The company cited "a decline in print and advertising costs, primarily due to fewer theatrical releases, and lower theatrical and video games valuation adjustments, as well as overhead cost savings" as driving the upside.

Lower theatrical revenue in the film unit was partially offset by higher television and video games revenue. TV revenue increased primarily due to higher international licensing revenue and "higher initial telecast" revenue, the company said. Video games revenue growth was mainly due to the company's Lego and Mortal Kombat franchises.

HBO grew its revenue 8 percent in the first quarter helped by an increase in U.S. subscribers and rates, but adjusted operating profit was up sightly less, 6 percent, at $486 million amid higher programming, marketing and technology costs. Programming costs increased 11 percent "primarily reflecting higher original programming costs," the company said, while higher marketing and technology costs were related to the HBO Now over-the-top service.

"HBO continued to make strides both inside and outside the traditional TV ecosystem, including expanding its OTT reach to new platforms and new international territories," said Bewkes. "And, more recently, HBO’s epic series Game of Thrones returned to record premiere-night viewership."

At Turner, the CEO highlighted that "TBS ended the quarter as the No. 1 ad-supported cable network in primetime among adults 18-49 and its repositioning as cable’s premier network for young, fresh comedy is underway with the introduction of new programming, including Angie Tribeca, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee and The Detour, the biggest new comedy on cable this year." He also lauded CNN and its coverage of the U.S. presidential campaign, saying it more than doubled its primetime audience in the first quarter.

Turner's first-quarter revenue rose 7 percent, including a 5 percent uptick in advertising revenue, helped by news channels and international networks. Subscription revenue at Turner rose thanks to higher U.S. rates and local currency growth at Turner’s international networks, "partially offset by the impact of foreign exchange rates and lower domestic subscribers." Wall Street will take note of the latter as it continues to analyze the impact of cord cutting and cord shaving.

Turner's adjusted operating profit increased 10 percent to $1.20 billion despite higher programming and marketing costs driven by higher sports costs and the promotion of recently premiered and upcoming original TBS series. Helping the comparison was a $17 million charge that the conglomerate took in the year-ago period to re-value its Venezuelan business.

“We’re off to a terrific start to 2016 as we benefit from the investments we’ve been making in great content and new capabilities in order to take advantage of the growing demand for high-quality video content around the world," said Bewkes. "In the past several weeks, we’ve seen Warner Bros. release its latest global hit in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, setting the stage for what we expect to be a big year in film, with upcoming releases including Suicide Squad and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In television, Warner Bros. continued to show its strength with three of the top five new shows on broadcast television this season among adults 18-49 and a record 21 renewals ahead of the upfront this year.”