With the streaming revolution in full swing, the rivalry between HBO and Netflix has never been fiercer, and earlier this month Netflix Inc. upped the stakes with a quarterly earnings report highlighting record growth for its global subscriber base -- now more than 62 million strong.
That’s a lot of pressure, to be sure, but HBO executives needn’t sweat too much, at least not yet. For all the hype around Netflix, the premium cable network still has almost twice the global subscriber base (when you count Cinemax subscribers, that is), and with ratings hits like “Game of Thrones” and “Silicon Valley” attracting new viewers and keeping older ones hooked, HBO is expected to generate double-digit revenue growth for its corporate parent, Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX), which reports first-quarter 2015 earnings on Wednesday, before markets open.
For the three months ended March 31, analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect Time Warner to report net income of $921,000, or $1.09 per share, a 12 percent increase over $885,000, or 97 cents per share, reported for the same period last year. Revenue is expected to rise 2.9 percent to $7 billion, from $6.8 billion last year.
Time Warner will report first-quarter 2015 financial results on Wednesday before the opening bell. A conference call is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. EDT.
‘Now’ Is The Time
With cord-cutting rampant and viewership in decline on linear cable, 2015 will be a crucial year for Time Warner. The launch this month of HBO Now, the standalone streaming service that doesn’t require a cable subscription, passed a critical first test on April 12 when it survived the premiere of “Game of Thrones” without any serious technical issues.
Time Warner has been one of the key forces pushing television toward its inevitable over-the-top future, in part because it has no choice. HBO makes up more than 36 percent of Time Warner’s stock price, according to an analysis from Trefis, making it Time Warner’s second-largest division behind Turner Broadcasting. Michael Nathanson, an analyst with MoffettNathanson, said in an April research note he expects HBO’s first-quarter revenue to rise 11.4 percent to $1.4 billion.
Turner Broadcasting -- owner of TNT, TBS, CNN and others -- is expected to deliver revenue of $2.6 billion, a 2 percent increase over last year. Although ratings have still been a challenge, there has been improvement at CNN, while Turner Sports scored a huge ratings win in the quarter with the NCAA Final Four semifinals, which reached a combined viewership of 41 million.
The first three months of the year are typically a fallow period for theatrical films, but some analysts said they were surprised that the movies released by Warner Bros. Pictures performed as well as they did. In particular, the controversial holiday hit “American Sniper,” starring Bradley Cooper, took in a global box office of $541.7 million on a production budget of $58.8 billion, according to Box Office Mojo.
“We didn’t have particularly high expectations for a slate of films that included ‘American Sniper,’ ‘Focus,’ ‘Jupiter Ascending,’ ‘Get Hard,’ and ‘Run All Night,’” Marci Ryvicker, a senior analyst for Wells Fargo, said in an April research note. “[B]ut those films generally beat our expectations, with ‘American Sniper’ really outperforming even the most bullish estimates we’ve seen in the trades.”
Nathanson said he expects Time Warner’s Filmed Entertainment division to post revenue of $3.3 billion, an increase of 7.1 percent over the same period last year. “Warner Bros.’ ‘American Sniper’ was far and away the biggest release in the quarter,” he wrote.
Time Warner shares closed Monday at $84.76, down 0.70 percent.