Nickelodeon Ad Sales a Drag on Viacom Earnings

Media giant ramps up development in bid to halt ratings skid

This morning's look back on the last quarter was not much fun for Viacom. Revenue was down 16 percent to $3.31 billion, earnings declined to $461 million, and per-share earnings came in at 91 cents per diluted share.

The network had the usual excuses, including that this year was a "difficult comparison" to the year previous, down 42 percent in revenue from 2012, when Mission Impossible—Ghost Protocol and Puss in Boots were its big Christmastime releases (of course, it had a Tom Cruise movie and a DreamWorks cartoon this year, too—they just didn't do as much business). The company continued to stress hikes in affiliate fees, which have been the source of no small agita for Viacom this year.

A 6 percent decline in Q4 ad sales revenue was due entirely to an ongoing slump at Nickeolodeon. Excluding Nick, ad sales growth was positive. Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman has started anticipating some of the analysts' pointed questions. "MTV began to answer the question, 'What's next after Jersey Shore?'" he said, focusing on the network's fingers-crossed hit Catfish. Dauman issued a borderline mea culpa for the ratings slide at MTV, too: "Jersey Shore was a game-changing hit, but it resulted in an overemphasis on one night." MTV, he promised, would work on establishing lineups on several nights that kept ratings more stable.

Dauman said that "the development pipeline at Nickelodeon is going strong," pointing to DreamWorks' Monsters vs. Aliens series and sell-through at retail for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, which he said approached 100 percent for the first quarter (Nick is hoping that it will be able to find a replacement for its current, ubiquitous flagship show). The network, Dauman said, would "centralize its leadership in Los Angeles under Russell Hicks." He told analysts that he didn't think his clients were taking their business to other media. "We left some non-endemic money on the table," Dauman said.

For TV advertising overall, things are at least stable. "We've had no notable cancelation activities," said Dauman. "Pricing continues to be up in the teens over the upfront, it's up mid-single digits, scatter to scatter, and we're seeing increases in categories like food, QSR and automotive."