Can These Media Moguls Bounce Back?


The movie industry started the year off strong, with North American box office receipts running 14% ahead of 2011 through April, but as the summer wore on, apparently Hollywood ran out of ideas. Last year, summer ticket sales hit $4.4 billion, but this year it will barely make $4 billion, the first time since 2005 receipts failed to exceed the prior year's haul.

Hollywood relies on blockbusters to pick up the slack of the vast tide of dreck that floods theaters every year. The Avengers has been the big draw, raking in almost $618 million in domestic box-office receipts, followed by The Dark Knight Rises, which has earned $423 million so far this year, even though it's been out for only a month. Despite a tragic start with the mass murders in Colorado, it is proving its worth. It's just the rest of the industry that's falling behind.

Still, according to Sony's movie-studio head, 2012 will be remembered as "one of our biggest years ever, both domestically and internationally."

The big picture
Over on Motley Fool CAPS, the industry screener lists 108 stocks under the broad rubric of "media," of which less than two dozen carry well-respected four- and five-star ratings. One of those that floats to the top is big-screen legend IMAX (NAS: IMAX) , which has seen its shares lose a fifth of their value from its March high even as the S&P 500 gained 3%.

It's not from a lack of trying. In the second quarter, IMAX revenues jumped nearly 23%, outstripping the industry's 13% growth as a whole. Indeed, IMAX accounted for 12% of Dark Knight's opening weekend haul of $161 million, even though it was responsible for just 5% of the screens on which it was shown.

Of course, that's also a function of the higher ticket prices charged to view a movie in IMAX or 3-D. According to the National Association of Theater Owners, ticket prices rose 2.5% in the second quarter to an average of $8.12 following a 1% rise in the first, driven by releases like The Avengers, Prometheus, and Brave from Pixar. Theater operator Regal Entertainment saw a 3% jump in average ticket prices to $9.11 in the quarter, while Carmike Cinema tickets were up just 1%, or an average of $6.91, but it focuses on smaller markets than its rival.

IMAX is employing something of a grow-slow approach these days as its backlog of theaters contracted to install the technology fell to 280 from 294 a year ago, though it expects 110 theaters will install its technology this year, up from previous forecasts of 95 to 100 theaters. Rival 3-D movie specialist RealD added 7,200 screens over the past year, but revenues fell 14%, and Dolby Labs (NYS: DLB) also saw declines in its digital cinema products, both 3-D and traditional.

The wide-screen format leader has an advantage, though, as too often studios will add 3-D as an afterthought in an attempt to generate excitement. Hasbro (NYS: HAS) , for example, pulled the release of its GI Joe sequel to add 3-D effects to it, but rather than pique interest, it has generated worry that maybe the movie couldn't stand on its own.

At almost 20 times earnings estimates, it's not exactly cheap when compared with Dolby, but it offers a discount to RealD. Tell me in the comments section below if you think I'm missing the big picture by not thinking it can bounce higher from here.

Th-th-that's all folks!
Yet IMAX isn't the only one suffering from contradictory results, as DreamWorks Animation (NYS: DWA) also saw its shares fall 21% from recent highs despite the incredible success of its hit cartoon Madagascar 3, which has brought in almost $214 million domestically. In fact, the entire franchise has performed well, earning DreamWorks more than $1.7 billion in gross worldwide receipts.

Yet the pressures of the industry condition are showing, as the animation studio dumped its longtime partner Paramount in favor of News Corp.'s marketing arm Fox. The move also shows that DreamWorks has more than just movies on its mind. While having produced some 24 animated feature films in its time, the movie house is looking to get into television. It bought Classic Media last month for $155 million, and Fox may become a partner in distributing family-oriented cable TV fare. Classic Media owns such memorable shows as Casper the Friendly Ghost and Rocky & Bullwinkle, two favorites of mine from my childhood.

As the Fool's Rick Munarriz highlights, DreamWorks has covered all of its bases, even locking in a streaming video deal with Netflix (NAS: NFLX) that will run through 2018.

It's one of the reasons I'm more drawn to the content creators than to those who would showcase the content and have rated the animation studio to outperform the broad indexes. Give me your views in the comments box below if you agree DreamWorks Animation will be able to avoid having an anvil dropped on its head.

Ready for a rubber match
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Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Hasbro and Dolby Laboratories, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Hasbro, IMAX, and Netflix. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Netflix, IMAX, Dolby Laboratories, DreamWorks Animation, and Hasbro. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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