Healing Cable Troubles With Changing Prescriptions

Discovery Communications was a star performer on Tuesday among publicly traded media companies, rising over 2% to $33.80 a share -- while other major media companies posted virtually unchanged results.

Nomura Securities analyst Anthony DiClemente, praising the work senior executive Rich Ross has done on programming improvements at many of Discovery Communications’ networks, raised Discovery’s price target to $34 from $33.

This was all part of the second-quarter viewership results for Discovery Channel -- an eye-opening 16% higher, to a prime-time average 1.42 million viewers — and ID network, which gained 8% to 873,000.

To give some perspective, only three other cable networks in the top 20 -- Fox News, HGTV and Food Network -- had improvements in the second quarter.

Cable network executives who can show growth are hard to come by. In other recent periods, CNN -- under Jeff Zucker’s leadership -- also showed improvements.



Still, DiClemente is worried about Discovery’s continuing dramatic increase in spending for marketing/media.  It comes down to this: Mature cable networks need every ounce of effort to pull in viewers by getting them to sample shows.

Some big marketing spin is just what Discovery hopes to gain from securing European Olympic broadcast rights for its Eurosport network -- which also resulted in a nice 3% bump in its stock price the day this was announced.

DiClemente also noted that Discovery reported a 1% gain in domestic advertising sales in the second quarter: a decent number, considering the softness of the market.

But sit tight and take note of this: In January, DiClemente (and other analysts) lowered stock market estimates for Discovery and a bunch of other companies because of a soft advertising market.

In an ever-tougher market, cable network improvements come in small doses -- and then change again.

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