Media companies are triggering 'fear, uncertainty, and doubt' with earnings, analyst says

Key Points
  • "Evaluation doesn't matter," with media company earnings like Netflix and Viacom throwing expectations out the window, according to Barton Crockett.
  • These disappointing earnings can be attributed to advertising shortcomings and subscriber declines, according to the managing director at FBR Capital Markets.
What to watch in media earnings

Media company earnings are producing surprisingly disappointing results, with companies such as Netflix and Viacom throwing expectations out the window, according to FBR Capital Markets' managing director.

"What it says is evaluation doesn't matter," Barton Crockett said in an interview Monday on "Squawk on the Street." "Netflix's chart has gone straight up, Viacom's chart has gone straight down. Viacom is a super cheap stock, Netflix is super expensive. In this group, it's the secular trends that matter, not the evaluation right now."

The Viacom headquarters in New York.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters

Part of this lackluster performance could be attributed to advertising shortcomings, Crockett said, as advertisers and viewers butt heads amid disappointing results.

"The ad trend is really frustrating, because these guys have had good pricing tailwinds with the upfront up at a very healthy level," Crockett said. "The advertisers want to be there, but the viewers are not, so the advertising is pressure."

Viacom, for example, had "comparative ratings performances" but didn't show an improved next-quarter ad trend, Crockett said. And while Time Warner had "CNN as a great juggernaut of rating strength," its ad outlook was "very disappointing," according to Crockett.

Deviations from evaluations aren't the only thing that's surprising, according to Crockett. A downward spiral in subscribers, such as with Disney's ESPN, should also be an "absolute concern" for investors, Crockett said.

"The trends are clear," Crockett said. "I mean out of the reports that we had last week, you're seeing kind of a three percentage point or so decline in basic cable carriage on pay-TV systems. And that's an uncomfortable number, and it's been ever-so-slightly getting a little bit worse, it seems. That creates a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt."

As for the next step toward consolidation, TV ownership rules are likely going to be loosened, according to Crockett. Investors will also see the conclusion of the AT&T and Time Warner merger, as they watch "how AT&T leverages Time Warner over their networks," Crockett said.

"If they have success there, which I think they can, I think that could be a catalyst for more pipe content merger consideration, which I think would put a bid underneath many names in the group," Crockett said.