Viacom's Biggest Problem Just Cost It $750 Million

By Markets Fool.com

The way we consume media has changed significantly during the past few years. Nearly everybody carries a pocket-sized super computer that connects us to all sorts of media, and we can instantly stream hundreds of shows and movies on demand.

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To address these consumption changes, mass-media companyViacom (NASDAQ: VIA) announced it will take a $750 million restructuring charge as part of a strategic realignment. The charge includes "accelerated amortization of programming expenses associated with a change in the company's ultimate revenue projections for certain original programming genres that have been affected by changing media consumption habits."

In other words, nobody's watching reruns and it's hurting revenues.

It's easy to jump in and blame Netflix or Amazon Prime for the decline in the value of shows like Sixteen and Pregnant or Jersey Shore, but the Web has expanded the media landscape beyond television programming and movies. We now have Buzzfeed articles on Facebook , and YouTube videos from Google . In this new world, reruns are having a hard time competing for our attention.

Why watch commercials?
In 2013, Viacom struck a multi-year deal with Amazon to stream some of its old shows to Prime subscribers. The deal was estimated to be worth several hundred million. Viacom's Media Networks division includes streaming licenses in its affiliate fee revenue. That revenue source increased $771 million, or 20%, from 2012 to 2014, largely due to the expansion of streaming rights.

But that streaming revenue doesn't completely make up for the company's sudden decrease in the valuation of its programming. Netflix and Amazon Prime are cutting into the company's home video sales. DVD and Blu-Ray sales declined 10.9% across the industry last year, accelerating from an 8.1% decline in 2013. Viacom hides its home video sales in its ancillary revenue line item, but the item grew by just $7 million from 2012 to 2014.

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Viacom is somewhat to blame for the declining value of its programming, because it licenses its content to Amazon and Netflix. And it's a problem that's likely not unique to Viacom, as on-demand streaming increases and cable ratings continue to decline. Interestingly, that trend has yet to impact Viacom's advertising revenue, which has grown a steady 2% per year during the last two years.

But that doesn't mean it won't have a negative impact on advertising in the future. The cracks are already starting to show -- domestic ad revenue growth was flat in 2014.

Advertisers want attention
While Netflix and Amazon might be to blame for declining ratings for Viacom's reruns, they don't display any advertisements. As a result, advertisers are in a situation where they're getting fewer eyeballs for their TV advertisements; but many are unsure of whether they can actually do better.

At the same time, however, we've seen huge growth in the amount of time spent on social media like Facebook and YouTube. These platforms are designed for advertisements, but advertisers have been relatively slow to follow -- especially on mobile. Facebook users spend around 40 minutes a day on the platform, with Instagram users averaging an additional 21 minutes per day. YouTube boasts that it streams hundreds of millions of hours of video daily.

That's not to say advertisers aren't spending on these platforms. YouTube reportedly generated $4 billion in revenue in 2014. Facebook, generated $11.5 billion in ad revenue last year. And those are global revenue figures. Comparatively, Viacom's television networks generated nearly $5 billion from advertising, operating mainly in the U.S., with some European networks.

There's a clear disconnect between the audience's attention and ad spend. It's only a matter of time before ad execs feel more confident investing in digital and mobile ads instead of television. So, taking this $750 million restructuring charge is likely pre-emptive of how Viacom sees ad sales performing this year. However, Viacom may be able to renegotiate its streaming licenses to get more money from Amazon or Netflix when its current contracts expire.

The article Viacom's Biggest Problem Just Cost It $750 Million originally appeared on Fool.com.

Adam Levy owns shares of Amazon.com. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Facebook, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Facebook, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.