Viacom Sees Q1 Earnings Jump Due to Rock Band

Viacom on Friday (May 2) reported a 33 percent jump in first-quarter earnings, gains driven in large part by sales of its Rock Band video game and a healthy scatter market.

The media conglomerate earned $270 million, or 42 cents per share, in the first three months of 2008, up from $203 million, or 29 cents per share, in the year-ago period. Revenues rose 15 percent to $3.12 billion.

Worldwide advertising revenues rose 8 percent to $1.05 billion, and as CFO Tom Dooley told investors, domestic ad sales grew by 7 percent in the quarter, on gains at the MTV Networks (particularly Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and TV Land). Dooley did not disclose an actual dollar figure for MTVN’s ad take.

The cable networks put up solid ratings numbers in the quarter, as four MTVN properties finished among the top 10 destinations for adults 18-34. Nick-at-Nite was ad-supported cable’s fifth most-watched net in the quarter, averaging 1.74 million viewers, an increase of 32 percent year-to-year. Spike TV also had a strong showing, falling just short of the top 10 with 1.36 million total viewers, an increase of 15 percent.

Perhaps more importantly, Nick-at-Nite ended the quarter with cable’s best C3 conversion ratio. The network retained more than 95 percent of its total viewership during commercial pods, according to Nielsen Media Research data, and was even stickier as far viewers 18-49 are concerned, holding onto 96 percent of the demo.

Other MTV nets fall into the middle of the pack, holding onto more than 90 percent of their respective viewership, although the flagship music channel continues to fall short. Upon conversion from live audience ratings to C3, MTV finished last among 50 measured networks, retaining 84 percent of its household audience during commercial breaks.

During Friday’s earnings call, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman provided investors with more detail about Viacom’s plan to launch a premium movie network under its Paramount imprint, saying that in addition to MGM and Lionsgate, the conglomerate is weighing additional partnerships. Dooley added that the company does not anticipate investing more than $100 million in the yet-to-be-named venture.

Earlier in the week, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported that Blockbuster was said to be interested in joining the alliance, but the video store chain dismissed the accounts as speculation.

In a note to investors, Pali Research analyst Rich Greenfield on Monday said that Google and Netflix were better positioned to sign on as a fourth hand in the new venture.

Shortly after noon on Friday, Viacom shares were trading at $39.93, up a penny over the prior-day close.