Viacom posts $18.44 billion fourth quarter loss

MUMBAI: Increasing competition in the radio space in the US has taken its toll on media conglomerate Viacom. The company has reported a loss of $18.44 billion for the fourth quarter ended ended 31 December 2004. In the same quarter in 2003 the company incurred a loss of $385.4 million

Viacom incurred massive charges for writing down the value of its radio and outdoor businesses in the face of a soft radio market and heightened competition. Radio ad sales have suffered as the medium loses listeners to other outlets such as satellite radio and Apple Computer's iPod digital music player. A media analyst at Gabelli, which owns 9.2 million shares was quoted in an IHT report saying that the news was disappointing

"If you added the industry norm growth rates for each of their segments, Viacom's guidance indicates a lower growth rate than the industry averages indicate. Until now radio has certainly been a problem, but it is not clear which segments might underperform the industry next year." What is causing concern is the number of write downs that Viacom has taken related to its recent acquisitions. Viacom had earlier taken two write-offs that totalled $2.9 billion for Blockbuster, the video retail chain.

For the year 2004, Viacom revenues increased by eight per cent to $22.5 billion from $20.8 billion in the prior year. Advertising revenues increased 11 per cent led by growth of 21 per cent in Cable Networks and 11 per cent in Television. Viacom reported an operating loss of $13.0 billion versus operating income of $4.5 billion in the prior year. For the fourth quarter, Viacom revenues increased by six per cent to $6.3 billion from $5.9 billion for the same period last year, led by double-digit increases in the cable networks segment. The fourth quarter 2004 operating loss was $16.7 billion compared with operating income of $1.1 billion. Viacom reported a

fourth quarter net loss from continuing operations of $17.1 billion, compared with net earnings of $586 million in the same period last year.

In 2005, the company expects to deliver mid single-digit growth in revenues and operating income and high single-digit growth in earnings per share. The companys business outlook is based on 2004 revenues of $22.5 billion, operating income of $5.1 billion and diluted earnings per share of $1.54, which exclude the charges and tax benefit.

Viacom chairman and CEO Sumner M. Redstone said, Having adjusted the valuations of our radio and outdoor businesses to reflect emerging business trends and the competitive

environment, we are now positioned to fully focus our efforts on the Companys fast growing assets. We are poised to move rapidly to increase our investment and re-evaluate our portfolio in Radio and to focus on the higher return areas within Outdoor.

"These businesses have terrific potential and continue

to generate some of the highest margins and free cash flow in the industry. Overall, Viacoms underlying operational performance, including 11 per cent advertising growth, reflects our ability to run our businesses to generate significant returns. Excluding the charges and the tax benefit, Viacom delivered 21 per cent earnings per share growth and a 17 per cent increase in free cash flow to $3 billion. In addition to reinvesting in our businesses for future growth, we were able to take advantage of this free cash flow growth to return capital to shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases. In fact, as a result of the Blockbuster split-off and the use of $2 billion of our $8 billion share buyback authorisation, we acquired 96.4 million outstanding shares in 2004.

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