Traditional entertainment and media stocks underperformed in 2015, while shares of companies aligned with newer streaming technologies, such as Amazon and Netflix, rose in value. Analysts expect more of the same going forward, unless giant media conglomerates like Viacom take a more forward-thinking perspective when it comes to delivering content to viewers intent on cutting the cable cord.
The "big seven" media players — Disney, Viacom, CBS Corp., Time Warner, 21st Century Fox, Sony Corp. and NBC Universal owner Comcast — lost a total of $50 billion in value this past year, as consumers, led by millennials who are not as attached to the concept of traditional "corded" cable TV subscriptions, shunned them, opting instead to use streaming video services alone for entertainment viewing.
The scope of the exodus from cable became clear in early August of 2015 when Disney CEO Bob Iger admitted the company's venerable ESPN sports cable franchise was bleeding subscribers to the extent that earning projections for the entire company's cable channel group were adjusted lower. That unit has traditionally accounted for around half of Disney's overall net income. Analysts estimated that ESPN could suffer a loss of over three million subscribers in 2015, and though Iger downplayed those numbers, his company's stock lost almost 10 percent of its value the day after the announcement. Investors, spooked by the potential fallout, sent the value of other entertainment stocks plunging as well.
Todd Juenger, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, summed up the situation in a recent research note, stating: "We entered 2015 with a negative bias on TV businesses, and the respective stocks, which only got worse as the year went on. TV revenues will eventually begin to decline — not decelerate, decline. Ouch."
Valuations of media companies, he says, need to be completely re-evaluated, claiming that "a whole new framework is necessary. Historical multiples are irrelevant. We believe the market is now valuing U.S. ad-supported TV businesses as structurally impaired assets."
Concerns that new developments from Apple associated with its redesigned Apple TV streaming box might further induce cord-cutting are also fueling fears, but it's clearly Netflix that led the charge away from cable this year. The company's stock performance reflects this, with a gain of 144 percent in 2015. Amazon wasn't far behind, with a 124 percent jump, and although the company's core business remains e-commerce, streaming has become an increasing priority.
It looks like the traditional entertainment companies need to catch up to the new media fast before the "big seven" becomes a lot smaller.