Media companies benefited from higher fees for cable television networks such as TBS, Comedy Central and CNBC in the first three months of the year.
Time Warner Inc., Viacom Inc. and Comcast Corp. all saw growth in their cable network businesses, thanks to distribution fees they charge cable and satellite TV service providers for rights to carry their channels on subscribers' lineups. Those fees get passed on to customers of cable and satellite service.
The boost in television helped make up for weakness at two of the three major movie studios that reported results Wednesday.
The trends show how important such fees have become to the television industry. Revenue at Time Warner's television business grew, even with a decrease in ad revenue. Even broadcast networks are increasingly relying on distribution fees to ride out fluctuations in the ad market. CBS Corp. said distribution fees from service providers for carrying CBS stations grew 62 percent.
The fees have become so vital that broadcasters are worried about the threat posed by a Barry Diller-backed startup called Aereo. The company sends over-the-air broadcasts over the Internet and bypasses traditional cable and satellite operators. Disputes over the fees have also led to high-profile blackouts of channels on cable and satellite lineups.
Time Warner, which owns channels such as TBS, TNT and HBO, credited the television division for a 24 percent growth in first-quarter net income to $720 million, despite a tiny drop in revenue to $6.9 billion that resulted from declines at the Warner Bros. studio and Time Inc. magazine businesses.
Revenue at Time Warner's television networks grew 3 percent to $3.7 billion. Network subscription revenue _ which includes the distribution fees _ grew 5 percent. Advertising revenue at the networks fell 1 percent despite higher ad rates, in part because of weakness at CNN and the shutdown of channels in India and Turkey.
Viacom's media networks unit, which includes MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, had a 2 percent increase in revenue to $2.2 billion. Digital licensing revenue fell because of the timing of available shows. Excluding that, domestic affiliate revenue _ primarily distribution fees _ saw percentage growth in the low double digits. Advertising rebounded as worldwide revenue grew 2 percent, compared with a 6 percent decline in the previous quarter.
The increases in television didn't fully offset weakness at the Paramount Pictures movie studio, though. Viacom's net income fell 18 percent to $478 million in the fiscal second quarter, as revenue fell 6 percent to $3.1 billion. Still, the earnings beat expectations. Viacom's main class of stock briefly hit an all-time high after the results came out.
At Comcast's cable networks, which include CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo and SyFy, revenue grew nearly 5 percent to $2.2 billion, largely because distribution fees went up nearly 9 percent. Ad revenue also went up, by 2.5 percent, because of higher rates, though that was offset by lower ratings and reductions in content licensing revenue.
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