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EARNINGS PREVIEW: Media Companies Still Face Modest Ad Revenue

By William Launder Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES TAKING THE PULSE: Despite bullish comments from broadcasters of late about an uptick in advertising sales, analysts expect only modest improvement from the generally sluggish ad sales reported in the final quarter of 2011. Affiliate fees remain a key profit source for broadcasters and cable operators even as digital distribution deals will continue to help profits. "Affiliate fees are still the 'golden goose' of media," write analysts at Barclays. Meanwhile, cable distributors face an ongoing squeeze on profit margins due to higher programming costs and new competition from the likes of Verizon Communications Inc.'s (VZ) FiOS service. COMPANIES TO WATCH: Walt Disney Co. (DIS) - reports May 8 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect a profit of 56 cent a share on revenue of $9.56 billion for the second fiscal quarter. Disney reported a profit of 49 cents a share on revenue of $9.08 billion in Disney's 2011 second quarter. Key Issues: Disney has warned that its studio segment would book up to a $120 million loss for the second quarter due to the poor box office performance of "John Carter," leading up to the resignation of studio Chairman Rich Ross last week. Analysts will look for more detail on the costs and the initial performance of highly-anticipated "The Avengers," slated for release May 4. Viacom Inc. (VIA, VIAB): reports May 3 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts expect a profit of 90 cents a share on revenue of 3.33 billion for Viacom's second fiscal quarter. Viacom booked a profit of 63 cents a share and revenue of $3.27 billion in its 2011 second quarter. Key Issues: Viacom's advertising revenue will be closely watched as the broadcaster faces ratings softness at two of its most important networks, Nickelodeon and MTV. DirecTV (DTV): reports May 10 (estimated) Wall Street Expectations: Analysts expect a profit of $1.05 a share on revenue of $7.03 billion. DirecTV reported a profit of 85 cents a share on revenue of $6.32 billion a year earlier. Key Issues: DirecTV last month outlined plans to more than double its revenue and subscriber base in Latin America, which is becoming the satellite TV operator's main source of growth as its U.S. markets attract fewer new customers. DirecTV already said it added more than 550,000 subscribers in Latin America for the first quarter. News Corp. (NWS, NWSA): reports May 9 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts expect a profit of 31 cents a share on revenue of $8.25 billion for News Corp.'s fiscal third quarter. The company, earned a profit of 24 cents a share on revenue of $8.26 billion in its 2011 fiscal third quarter. Key Issues: In February, Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey has pointed optimistically to upcoming renewals on Fox News' pay-TV carriage rights, which coincide with popular election year news coverage. He also acknowledged ratings weakness at top-rated reality show "American Idol," which faces new competition from shows like NBC's "The Voice." News Corp., which owns this newswire, is also still dealing with the aftermath of a phone-hacking scandal at its U.K. newspapers division. Cablevision Systems Corp. (CVC): reports May 3 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts expect a profit of 19 cents a share on revenue of $1.67 billion. Cablevision reported a 36 cents a share profit on revenue of $1.92 billion a year earlier. Key Issues: Investors have aggressively dumped Cablevision shares over the past year amid worries about low growth prospects and overlap with Verizon's expanding FiOS service. They are also worried about a slew of high-level executive departures, including much-respected former Chief Operating Officer Tom Rutledge last year. --By William Launder, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-3412; william.launder@dowjones.com

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