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EARNINGS PREVIEW: U.S. Media Firms Face Fee Fights, Ad Concerns in 2nd Quarter

By Ben Fox Rubin TAKING THE PULSE: Despite weakness in Europe, advertising sales are growing domestically for U.S. media firms, as ad dollars continue to migrate away from print and toward electronic media, especially cable networks. However, disputes over affiliate fees with distributors and higher costs to develop new content continue to hang over the industry. Wall Street expects major media companies to either post slightly higher earnings or modest declines amid the uncertain economy. But, Lazard Capital Markets recently said that while broad economic concerns are dominating sentiment in the industry, "We believe domestic TV advertising remains reasonable resilient," saying current fears appear worse than the actual trend. Analysts will also look for comments on how the London Olympics and political campaign advertising are expected to help advertising revenue in the third quarter. COMPANIES TO WATCH: Time Warner Inc. (TWX) - reports Aug. 1 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts call for 58 cents in earnings and revenue of $6.95 billion. A year earlier, the company's profit was 59 cents a share, or 60 cents excluding items such as acquisition-related costs, on $7.03 billion in revenue. Key Issues: The owner of HBO, TNT and CNN faces a challenge generating meaningful profit growth in an increasingly competitive television industry where program costs are rising. Its TNT channel in particular has been a drag on results, as prime-time viewership has slumped. The company has been reluctant to license video-streaming rights for much of its content--a move that has benefited some rivals--but has been pushing HBO Go, the online version of its pay-TV service. While second-quarter results from its Warner Bros. Pictures film studio should show weakness, its third quarter is expected to come in strong thanks to the release of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." CBS Corp. (CBS, CBSA) - reports Aug. 2 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts are projecting a per-share profit of 59 cents with $3.53 billion in revenue. A year ago, the company reported 58 cents and $3.59 billion, respectively. Key Issues: The most-watched broadcaster has enjoyed improved earnings recently after signing content-licensing deals with online media companies and garnering higher programming fees. A growing international audience and a deal with AMC Networks Inc. (AMCX) to license CBS's "CSI: Miami" show also have proved lucrative. Viacom Inc. (VIA, VIAB) - reports Aug. 3 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts expect a fiscal third-quarter profit of $1 a share on revenue of $3.5 billion. Viacom last year booked a profit of 97 cents a share, or 99 cents excluding certain costs, and revenue of $3.77 billion. Key Issues: A continued slide in viewers at two of Viacom's flagship networks, Nickelodeon and MTV, should keep up pressure on advertising revenue. The company's Paramount film unit should also see muted sales, after the latest "G.I. Joe" movie was delayed into 2013. On a positive note, Viacom recently reached an agreement with DirecTV Group Inc. (DTV) to restore most of its channels to the satellite-TV provider after a 10-day blackout. Walt Disney Co. (DIS) - reports Aug. 7 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect a profit of 93 cents a share on revenue of $11.29 billion for its fiscal third fiscal quarter. A year ago, Disney reported a profit of 77 cents a share, or 78 cents excluding restructuring and impairment costs, on revenue of $10.68 billion. Key Issues: Disney is expected to benefit significantly from its release of "The Avengers" superhero movie, which became the all-time third highest-grossing movie domestically, a welcome change for the company following the second-quarter flop "John Carter." The company has been seeing strength in its cable channels, thanks to higher programming fees and advertising sales. Disney's theme parks have also been a source of strength. News Corp. (NWS, NWSA) - reports Aug. 8 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts expect income of 32 cents a share on revenue of $8.71 billion for the company's fiscal fourth quarter. News Corp. earned a profit of 26 cents a share, or 36 cents excluding special items, on revenue of $8.96 billion a year earlier. Key Issues: In a move investors have long called for, the media giant plans to separate its slower-growing publishing division from its film and television businesses within a year. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch dismissed suggestions that the split was a response to a phone-hacking scandal in its U.K. newspaper division. News Corp.'s Fox News and FX cable channels continue to exhibit strong growth, while its newspapers' income has flagged, due to lower advertising revenue at Australian publications and the absence of the News of the World, the U.K. newspaper at the center of the hacking scandal that the company shut down last year. New Corp. is the parent of this newswire. (The Thomson Reuters financial estimates and year-earlier figures may not be comparable due to one-time items and other adjustments.) Write to Ben Fox Rubin at Subscribe to WSJ:

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