Media Companies Hope Box Office Bounty Masks TV Troubles

Box office isn’t typically the biggest contributor to the bottom lines of entertainment giants like Time Warner, 21st Century Fox, Viacom and Disney, but in an era when normal patterns of ad spending are in massive flux, executives at those companies may feel more warmly toward Hollywood than they do Madison Avenue, even though film success has long been more unpredictable. “You know you are in trouble when the only positive media data point in the quarter is the U.S. box office,” said Michael Nathanson, a financial analyst who covers the media industry, in a recent research note.
Case in point: Comcast’s successful second quarter was buoyed not by ad cash flowing into TV networks like NBC, USA and E!, but by an outsized performance by summer blockbuster “Jurassic World,” as well as big returns for films including “Furious 7” and “Pitch Perfect 2.” While the conglom’s cable business also drove revenue, the movies represented “the highlight of the quarter,” said Brian Roberts, Comcast’s chief executive, speaking to investors July 23.